Mr. GoodWrench, we have a problem...

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So I'm sitting in exit row seat 9F, taxiing down the runway at about 100 miles per hour on a Northwest Airlines Airbus 319 when I decide to take a peek out the window. Something immediately catches my eye - a large wrench - and it's sticking out from the wing, in the area of the rearmost flaps.

I did a double-take, because I couldn't believe there was a wrench attached to the wing, but sure enough, there it was - the box end of the wrench (the closed end) was sticking almost straight up from the wing, and it appeared to be a rather substantial wrench - I'd guess it was at least a 1". I immediately grabbed for my cell phone - if the plane was going to crash, I wanted evidence that there was a wrench in the wing when we took off. I snapped a picture and turned the phone off.

My mind started to race... Did someone drop the wrench? Was it forgotten after an adjustment was made? Had the adjustment been made properly? How was it able to "hang on" at more than 100mph? The thoughts stopped as soon as we started to lift off the ground, and the wrench was still in place.

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I thought about hitting the flight attendant call button, but then wondered what good would come of it. We were all ready off the ground, a few hundred feet above the Potomac river. I tried to ignore it.... no luck. I stared at the wrench as we continued to climb into the air - buildings looked like matchboxes, cars like Hot Wheels, and the wrench was still stuck in the wing. The plane made a brief wiggling motion and began a right-hand bank - and that's when the wrench went flying out. I barely saw it leave - it flew out so quickly.

I looked down as best I could, and by my estimates, we were at least 5000 feet in the air, and we were no longer over the Potomac. The wrench was returning to earth, at terminal velocity, in an area where the landscape was dotted with large parking lots. I can only guess as to which car was the recipient of Northwest's heavenly gift.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, but I wasn't able to do much work... All I could think about was that wrench and what it was supposed to have been tightening. Was it a hydraulic line? A structural bolt? Who knew...

We landed in Memphis, and I waited for everyone to exit the plane before approaching the pilots. They were standing in the entry way to the cockpit - one was a large, white-haired man with glasses and a Hawaiian-print hat. The other was a shorter, black-haired man with aviator glasses (just like you'd see in the movies). I walked up to them and said, "Hey, I don't mean to alarm you, but when we were leaving Reagan National, there was a large wrench stuck in the wing, back by the rear flaps."

The white-haired pilot (WHP) said, "Are you serious?"
Me: "Yep - I didn't see it until we were taxiing down the runway, and I was going to say something, but I didn't know what to do, with all the security and what have you."
WHP: "There was a wrench in the wing?"
Me: "Yes, it was sticking straight out, by the flaps."
WHP: (sarcastically) "Was it a 3/8 or a 1/2"?"
Me: "Larger than that - probably around 1"."
WHP: "That's impossible - we didn't have any maintenance scheduled for DC."
Me: "You'd like to think so, but I grabbed my cellphone and took a picture of it - here, you can see it sticking out right here." (I handed him my cell phone with the picture of it)
WHP: "Huh! Well, that IS a wrench! I'll be..."
Me: "I'm glad we made it here, but you might want to have someone double check that to make sure nothing important is loose back there."
WHP: "I will definitely contact Reagan and let them know about it. Where's the wrench now?"
Me: "Probably in some guy's windshield back in DC - it fell out when we made our first right hand bank turn at about 5,000 feet."
WHP: "It hit a car?"
Me: "Well, where it fell out, it was near a populated area - like a parking lot."
WHP: "Oh, that's just great. Hey, thanks a lot for the info - I'm going to call this in right now."

So... if anyone in the DC area is searching Google for examples of wrenches falling from the sky and landing on a car, e-mail me...

Next time I fly, I'm going to study every inch of the wings before the plane starts to taxi down the runway... :-)

4 Comments

Again, story almost made me piss my pants....

Then I realized Brandon flies Nothwest to CO Sat. and I to visit you next week....

Not so funny anymore.......

Glad you made it safely. I can imagine how uncomfortable you were. What if the wrench hit someone on the ground?? I wonder if the pilot really reported it? You maybe could sell that photo.

I showed your story at work and had people say you should post that picture on this website. I'd surely like to see it. Maybe you could be famous. Cause a ruckus with Northwest, maybe you can sue them for mental anguish....

I thought about it, but there's a few problems with that:

1) My stupid phone isn't able to send photos. I can store them, but I can't send them... well, I couldn't send them until last night when I went to the Cingular store and got it taken care of.

2) While at the Cingular store, the guy accidentally called someone's home phone from my phone and tried to send them pictures, and in the process, I lost 3 pictures (the wing picture, a picture of a foster dog and a picture from Detroit Auto Show).

3) With my luck, I'd post the picture and get sued by the TSA and NWA for breaching security and using a cell phone while in flight... :-D

I'm super mad about the photos being gone - I didn't realize it happened until a friend called me and said, "Did you call me from your fax machine?" And I said, "No." And then I went through the call logs and saw that the guy was trying to get the stuff to work, but wasn't calling a cellphone - he was calling a friend's house in Florida...

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