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Feds probe Southwest plane stuck in mud at MacArthur

Federal aviation investigators are looking into an incident

Federal aviation investigators are looking into an incident involving a Southwest Airlines jet that veered off a taxiway and got stuck in the mud at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, officials said. (Dec. 27, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

A departing Southwest Airlines jet with 129 passengers and five crew aboard veered off a taxiway before dawn at rainy Long Island MacArthur Airport Thursday and came to a stop in mud.

No one aboard the Tampa, Fla.-bound Boeing 737 was injured, and all passengers were returned to the terminal where they booked other flights or waited for Southwest to bring in another plane, airport officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the mishap at the Ronkonkoma airport. The airport's fire and rescue unit helped passengers from the plane and were assisted by firefighters from the Sayville, Bayport, Bohemia and Holbrook fire departments, said Inez Birbiglia, an airport spokeswoman.

Passengers aboard Southwest Flight 4695 said they felt the jet skid and lurch to a sudden stop five minutes after it left the terminal just after 6 a.m.

"The plane sort of dropped," said James Engle, 49, a restaurant worker from Ocean Beach who was on the flight. "It was like hitting the brakes in your car."

After the plane stopped, the pilot told passengers he had trouble seeing the taxiway, according to another passenger on the plane.

"It was kind of like a bang, then the plane went on its side a little," said Fran Carlson, 69, a Tampa resident who was heading home after spending Christmas with her children in Oakdale and Lake Grove. The pilot "said it was very dark and he couldn't see."

It was not known if the plane sustained any damage. FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac did not classify the mishap as an accident, which would have indicated substantial damage to the jet.

Conditions at the airport at the time were windy and rainy, and departure delays ranged up to 15 minutes, according to the FAA.

Passenger Michelle Lavecchia, 24, a former Middle Island resident who lives in Orlando, said everyone aboard remained calm.

"None of us were scared or anything," Lavecchia said.

Lavecchia said she received a voucher of $200 from Southwest to be used on an upcoming flight.

About five hours later, a Southwest jet flown in from Baltimore/Washington International Airport arrived at Gate A4 to cheers from remaining passengers, who later boarded for the flight to Tampa.

With Gary Dymski

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