Oh Chute! Delta’s Emergency Slide Lands in Rockaway

 Oh Chute! Delta’s Emergency Slide Lands in Rockaway

By Katie McFadden

Well, oh chute. On Sunday afternoon, April 28, Delta Air Lines employees had an unexpected day at the beach as they came to Belle Harbor to retrieve their missing emergency slide that detached from a plane out of JFK Airport on Friday morning. And besides falling right in our backyard, this story is full of other coincidences.

On the morning of Friday, April 26, 176 passengers boarded Delta Flight 520, a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft made in 1990, for a flight from JFK Airport to Los Angeles. However, shortly after takeoff, that flight turned around and made its way back to JFK as a precaution after pilots received an alert about the emergency slide on the right rear side of the aircraft. It was after the aircraft landed safely that Delta employees saw an open panel and realized that the emergency slide had fallen off of the flight. And a search began for where that missing slide could’ve been, with suspicions of it falling in Jamaica Bay, right next to JFK Airport.

Late Friday afternoon, some Rockaway locals found an oddly shaped flotation device being tossed in the waves on the shoreline of Beach 133rd Street in Rockaway. And by Sunday morning, April 28, readers contacted The Rockaway Times to let us know that the rock jetties do a great job of catching things. Many witnessed a large, mostly deflated flotation device was caught in the jetty on Beach 130th Street and speculated that it could be what Delta was looking for. The Rockaway Times quickly went to the scene before 10:30 a.m. to take close-up photos, posted to social media, where a few locals with experience in the airline industry confirmed that it was likely the emergency slide, and we called the FAA Hotline to notify them, which unfortunately, happens to be closed on Sundays. However, as we were leaving, a NYC Parks vehicle had arrived on the scene. At around 4:30 p.m., neighbors saw a Delta vehicle pull up on Beach 130th and several employees wearing neon yellow vests traversed the jetty at low tide, and removed the slide, confirming that it was indeed what they had been looking for.

For some locals, knowing that piece of a plane landed in the water off of Belle Harbor, brought flashbacks to the tragedy of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on November 11, 2001. That flight crashed in Belle Harbor, with the main fuselage hitting Beach 131st Street, killing five neighbors on the ground. The coincidence was not lost on locals who remember that day more than 22 years ago, in which 265 people were killed, and were grateful that Delta’s slide hadn’t landed on someone or someone’s property, causing another devastating tragedy.

Even more ironic, according to the New York Post, the emergency slide landed on the block of attorney Jake Bissell-Linsk. Bisselll-Linsk happens to be a partner at law firm Labaton Keller Sucharow. On January 30 of this year, Labaton Keller Sucharow sued Boeing in a federal court in Alexandria, VA over allegedly making false and misleading statements about safety, following the incident in which a panel fell off of an Alaskan Air Boeing 737 on January 5. Labaton sued on behalf of stakeholders who bought stock in Boeing between Oct. 23, 2019, when Boeing said it was prioritizing safety, and January 24, 2024. “Our case is all about safety issues at Boeing, and this slide is literally right in front of my house,” Bissell-Linsk told the NY Post. Will he let this latest bit of evidence slide? “We haven’t decided if the slide is relevant to our case,” Bissell-Linsk said.

Debbie Lonnborg of Broad Channel was surprised to hear that the emergency slide didn’t fall into her backyard pool. But Lonnborg, her husband, Ronnie, and their daughter, Alyssa, happened to be on Flight 520 on Friday when the slide detached. On their way to Ventura Beach, CA, to watch Alyssa compete in a half marathon, the Lonnborg’s trip got off to a false start. “We were on the flight for about half an hour when the captain came on and said we were heading back to JFK because an indicator came on saying the emergency chute door wasn’t working, so to be on the safe side, we were going to turn around,” Debbie Lonnborg said.

As they were sitting on the left side, near the front of the plane, the Lonnborgs say they didn’t notice or hear anything unusual on the flight, but kids on their way to compete in a tournament, sitting in the right rear of the plane, felt a vibration. But most of the passengers didn’t suspect anything until the announcement came. “No one was nervous. There was no commotion, everyone was fine,” Lonnborg said. It was only after the fact that on the news, the passengers found out the extent of the damage, seeing photos of a panel ripped off the plane they were on, in the spot there the emergency slide once was.

Before those reports even hit the news, the Lonnborgs say Delta did everything right on their behalf, giving everyone a $12 voucher to use in the terminal, and 2,000 mileage points on their accounts. And in what seems like a miracle for the airline industry, the passengers barely had time to use their voucher as they were deplaned, and shifted two gates down, where conveniently, another plane was waiting for them. “Within 45 minutes, we were getting on the new plane. We sat on the new plane for an hour as it refueled, and then we took off again. Our trip was only delayed by four hours.” After completing the half marathon, Alyssa Lonnborg confirmed, “Delta did a fantastic job of keeping everyone calm and shuffling us on to another plane really quick. They were on their game. Boeing sucks.”

After seeing The Rockaway Times post about the found slide, the Lonnborgs weren’t surprised it wound up so close to home. “I thought, with our luck, it’s probably in our pool. We knew it would show up somewhere close,” Debbie Lonnborg said. They’re just grateful that for the sake of local residents, and themselves, this incident wasn’t worse. “Camera crews were here interviewing people as they got off the plane in Los Angeles. This could’ve been catastrophic, so I’m grateful that it wasn’t. We’re grateful that we landed safely,” Lonnborg said.

 Photos by Katie McFadden and Cristina Quigney Cassano.

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