Plane flew to Paris with missing panel

May 8, 2008 1:45:20 PM PDT
American Airlines says the Federal Aviation Administration has asked for a report on a flight that flew from Dallas to Paris last month after a panel fell off the underside of the plane during takeoff. The 767 plane was climbing through 10,000 feet on April 20 when people onboard heard a noise and felt a vibration.

"[It] sounded like an explosion, or very large landing gear being ripped," said a flight attendant on board, according to an e-mail obtained by television station WFAA in Dallas.

Thinking that the noise could have been a cargo container shifting in the hold, and with no indications on any of the cockpit instruments that anything was wrong, the pilots decided to proceed as usual.

The plane's relief pilot remained in the back of the plane to see if he heard or felt anything else. By the time the flight passed over the East Coast, those monitoring the situation decided it was OK to continue across the Atlantic.

It wasn't until landing in Paris that the airline discovered the plane had lost a 3-by-6-foot panel that covers the air conditioning pack off the bottom of the jet.

American Airlines insisted its pilots handled the situation professionally and correctly.

"The facts of the matter are that this captain did exactly what we want our captains to do," two captains with American's flight safety department explained in an e-mail to pilots. "He did not make this decision in a vacuum; he consulted with his fellow crew members on the plane and with support staff on the ground."

Still, the airline said that had it known the panel was missing, it "obviously" would have put the plane on the ground rather than allow the flight to continue to Paris. Had the plane returned to Dallas, it would have had to dump a lot of expensive jet fuel in order to land.

The airline claims the flight was never in danger, that this was not a "safety of flight" issue.

The plane had 176 passengers on board, as well as three pilots and nine flight attendants.

WFAA's Gary Reaves contributed to this report.