Jet stuck in snow strands passengers for 4 hours at Pittsburgh airport

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 10:22 a.m.

Airport officials blame the pilot of American Airlines Flight 1958 for taking too wide a turn and getting his airplane stuck in a pile of snow at Pittsburgh International during this week's storm.

But the airline on Thursday blamed airport crews for allowing the arriving MD-80 to hit the snow, stranding 140 passengers for hours.

“We feel the ramp should have been cleared more fully or the aircraft should have been directed to take a different route to the gate,” said American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller.

Miller said the pilot “maneuvered the aircraft as best he could under the circumstances.”

The airport had a different take on the Wednesday night incident.

“Our priority when it comes to snow removal is keeping the runways clear and open, then the taxiways. Ramp areas are secondary,” airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said, adding a path was cleared on the ramp to allow planes to get to gates. “The pilot made a wide turn and hit a pile of snow.”

As the airport and airline differed on details about the incident, a Shadyside native who was on the flight said passengers and those waiting for them were kept in the dark for much of the four-hour ordeal.

When information did come from the pilot, it was barely audible over the din of those on board, said Alexis Mamaux, 47, of Las Vegas, N.M., who was visiting family.

“That was the most frustrating part,” she said.

The flight had endured a three-hour delay in Dallas.

“The biggest issue people had was with the judgment call to keep us on the plane that long,” she said. “A lot of people wondered why they didn't call the buses right away.”

Jenny said the plane got stuck in about 2 feet of snow along a ramp about 8:45 p.m. as it taxied to its gate. About 5 inches of snow fell, but snow piled up in places because of plowing.

Miller said the pilot asked airport authority maintenance and de-icing crews to remove snow and ice buildup around the landing gear and wheels to dislodge the plane.

“Unfortunately, several attempts to clear the ice were unsuccessful,” Miller said.

According to airport operation logs, the pilot requested shuttle buses at 10:36 p.m., about two hours after touching down; two 30-seat parking shuttles arrived 24 minutes later to ferry the passengers 100 yards to the air-side terminal. It took the shuttles another 35 minutes and five trips apiece to get all passengers off the plane.

Passengers could not get their checked bags until after the pilot got the plane to the gate at 12:09 a.m. Baggage handlers could not access the plane's cargo area while it was stuck, Jenny said.

Jenny said the parking shuttles were on standby the entire time, but it was the pilot's call to make on when to dispatch them.

“He is in charge of the plane,” she said. “They could've had passengers off sooner, but they decided to wait.”

Miller said the pilot hoped crews could quickly clear the snow and ice so the plane could continue to the gate.

“It wasn't our preference to deplane passengers on the snowy and icy ramp,” Miller said, adding flight attendants provided snacks and drinks during the delay.

Jenny said the airport authority won five awards for its work in handling snow and ice at the International Aviation Snow Symposium in Buffalo. Airports in the United States and Canada compete for the award.

Problems persisted at the airport on Thursday. Airlines had canceled 14 arriving and departing flights and delayed 103 others as of 5 p.m., according to flight-tracking website Lines at ticket counters were long throughout the morning.

“At this point, we're just hoping we can get out of here,” said Phil Snitz, 43, of Morgantown, W.Va., attempting to book a Friday flight to Los Angeles for his wife, Crystal, 42, and son Austin, 10, after a cancellation on Thursday. He held a cell phone to one ear and pecked on his laptop computer.

Snitz's daughter Abby, 15, is performing in Tuesday's Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., with the Morgantown High School marching band. Abby's flight departed with no problem on Thursday morning.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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