Landing at San Diego International Airport, a Swift Air Boeing 737-800 was spotted landing with part of its vertical stabilizer missing. The observation was made on May 19th by a Twitter user and planespotter named Doug Kempf, who was out taking photos of aircraft landing on a clear and sunny day. Being something that clearly doesn’t happen every day, Kempf took to Twitter to share his discovery.
The original post
Kempf posted the photo of the Boeing 737-800 to Twitter – calling his find ‘airworthy’. The photo shows the aircraft, registered N820TJ, moments before touchdown with the bottom-forward corner of its tail missing.
N820TJ Boeing 737-8Q8 operating as Swift Air/iAero Airways SWQ3518 landing KSAN runway 27 on 19 May 2020. I would have discarded this photo except for the tail. Evidently it is airworthy. #avgeek #planespotting pic.twitter.com/Tnfk7osdF8Advertisement:
— Doug Kempf (@dougkempf) May 20, 2020
Colloquially referred to as the ‘tail’, the more technical term is ‘vertical stabilizer’. We were unable to find a specific name for the particular piece missing, although the back end that moves is known as the rudder.
According to data from FlightAware, the aircraft was landing in San Diego International Airport (SAN) after flying from Southern California Logistics Airport, more commonly referred to as Victorville after the nearby town.
The flight took off at approximately 15:14 and landed at its destination shortly after, at 15:55 local time. The 737 was registered as N820TJ and is over 21 years old.
Victorville is, of course, well known for being an aircraft boneyard and storage site. In fact, Southern California Logistics Airport is the site responsible for storing Southwest’s fleet of grounded Boeing 737 MAX jets. Photos posted by the UK’s Daily Mail also indicate that the site holds a large number of FedEx and Delta jets.
Although the site is also listed as the home to aircraft maintenance facilities, this particular 737 was shown to be flying from other locations on the same day the photo was taken. On May 19th, tracking sites list the aircraft as flying from Phoenix to Denver, Denver to Victorville, and finally Victorville to San Diego.
Therefore, it is near impossible that the 737 was in Victorville to have any maintenance work performed.
Further news on the incident jet
More recently there was a follow-up post by Kempf on the mysterious case of the Swift Air jet. An additional photo was provided, giving us a better look at the missing piece. Kempf says that he received additional information saying that “the damage occurred in flight and the crew was unaware.”
Yesterday I posted the photo on the left of N820TJ landing in San Diego with parts of its tail missing. I received the photo on the right along with information that the damage occurred in flight and the crew was unaware. @JustJettingThru was key in updating me.#avgeek pic.twitter.com/3NgE2yC5YQ
— Doug Kempf (@dougkempf) May 21, 2020
This is such a unique and mysterious case. It makes total sense that the crew would be unaware of this piece coming off if it took place during flight (although passengers of an Airbus A350 might notice with that aircraft’s inflight tail camera.)
This is especially true given the fact that the particular piece missing is not part of the active control of the aircraft.
What do you think was the story behind this photo? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Simple Flying inquired with Swift Air parent company iAero Group. We also contacted Boeing to inquire about whether any similar incidences have ever been recorded happening. However, at the time of publication no information was received from the airline nor Boeing. We will update this article if new information comes in.