Inside JFK Airport's ice storm meltdown
(New York - WABC, August 13, 2007) (WABC) -- Eyewitness News has exclusive audio that takes you behind the scenes during the ice storm meltdown at JFK Airport in February.
You may remember the Valentine's Day storm that stranded passengers and pilots -- some of them stranded on the tarmac for almost 13 hours.
The Eyewitness News Investigators Jim Hoffer has the story.
Valentines Day 2007. With sleet and freezing rain pelting JFK, pilots with planeloads of people are unable to takeoff.
Pilot: "We're going to be camping here for awhile so we can shut down the engines."
Air Traffic Control: "Sure."
These tape communications between pilots and air traffic controllers obtained exclusively by Eyewitness News show how JetBlue and other airlines hoping for a break in the weather, decided not to cancel flights.
Pilot: "Can we shut down our engines, it looks like it's going to be awhile."
Air Traffic Control: "1861 approved."
Pilot: "Thank you."
It's a decision that touched off one of the worst days for travelers in the airport's history.
Air Traffic Control: "These guys were there before I got here. You got JetBlue 80, 1048, 620, 1060 and 850. They've been there with passengers for about 4,5, 6 hours."
"They sat for as long as 13 hours and returned to the ramp, some of these people didn't get out of here for three days," said air traffic controller Barrett Brynes.
Air Traffic Control: "Did you run out of fuel yet?"
Pilot: "Luckily we only have 50 people on board. I was just going to call Dominos."
Air Traffic Control: "Your company just cancelled one to New Orleans and waited at de-ice station for 5 hours."
Pilot: "What a day."
Making matters worse -- the airport remained open so planes kept landing even though bad weather prevented those waiting on the ground from taking off.
Air Traffic Control: "The airport is not closed, they're all landing. The airport is officially open."
With planes landing and none departing, the airport became gridlocked nearly running out of any room to maneuver.
Air Traffic Control: "You cannot hold there you are blocking both of my taxiways. You must pull forward."
Jim Hoffer: "You actually were running out of room for the planes?"
Barret Brynes: "Yeah, this is a 5,000 acre airport and as you heard on the tapes the controller was actually running out of places to put the airplanes."
At this point, tensions boiled over.
Pilot: "Jamaica, can I go by alpha?"
Air Traffic Control: "No you can't. There's traffic in opposite direction."
Pilots pleaded for a place to park.
Pilot: "All gates are full, we have no options, but if you have a place to hide us, we'll take what you got."
Air Traffic Control: "Right now just hold your position please, maintain your listening spot I'm running out of space."
While a repeat on the same scale is unlikely, experts agree delays are an increasing part of the aviation landscape.
"You have so much traffic coming in and you're really stressing the resources. You're pushing them as hard as you can then when something starts to go wrong, you tend to get into this snowball situation," said John Hansman of MIT.
And not much improvement this summer either. In the month of June, JFK had about 150 flights where passengers waited on the tarmacs for at least three hours -- the worst delays in years.
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