Swift Air Boeing 737 Lands In San Diego With Tail Parts Missing

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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.

Swift Air 737
The aircraft involved belonged to Swift Air, which has been rebranded to iAero. The incident aircraft itself was a Boeing 737-800 (not pictured here). Photo: Tomas del Coro via Flickr

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.

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.

Flight details

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.

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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.

Flight path Swift air
The flight from Victorville to San Diego only took 40 minutes. Photo: FlightAware.com

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.

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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.”

Conclusion

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.

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