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Jumbo Jet Loses Part of Flaps on Takeoff; Returns Safely

November 8, 1985

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A Pan Am jumbo jet with 192 people aboard lost a wing slat when it ″tore off like a piece of paper″ shortly after takeoff Thursday but the plane returned safely to San Francisco International Airport.

The 6-foot-long, 18-inch wide leading-edge slat that broke away helps lift the jet on takeoff but isn’t needed in flight, according to FAA and airline officials.

″About two minutes after we took off, a big hunk of the wing just came off. It tore off like a piece of paper,″ said Airman 1st Class Alfred Conley, a passenger who was sitting beside the emergency exit over the left wing.

The Boeing 747 made a normal landing at 1:50 p.m., 43 minutes after it left for Narita International Airport outside Tokyo, said Walt Fuller, a Federal Aviation Administration specialist.

None of the 177 passengers or 15 crew members was injured, said FAA administrative assistant Lovey Williams. Pan Am provided passengers with alternate flights

″It kind of made me want to panic at first,″ said Conley, who was headed for an Air Force assignment overseas. ″It didn’t do anything to the plane, but it made it vibrate real hard.

″Once the first section of the wing came off, another piece under it shot up and it (the wind) threw that to the top of the plane over our heads. We heard a big thump,″ Conley said.

Bob and Clemmie Brandt of San Andreas, Calif., were sitting behind Conley. ″I thought it was the end,″ said Mrs. Brandt. ″I was kind of scared when the captain said we were going to be back in 10 minutes, but then 20 minutes passed and we were still dumping fuel over the ocean.″

Pan Am spokesman James Arey said ″the vibration was not unlike that of a takeoff.″ He said the slat that broke off was one of 13 slats on each side of the aircraft, and is not vital to the plane’s operation.

Capt. Dwight Wygant chose to dump 150,000 pounds of fuel to lighten the plane and make it safer for landing, Arey said.

He said he suspected the two pieces passengers saw come off were the slat and the piece of the wing. The airline and the FAA are investigating, he said.

Earlier, Thomas Carman, a control tower supervisor at the airport, described the piece that tore off as a flap, but that report was incorrect.

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