Thunderstorm to Raging Weather Event in 15 Minutes Radar Flash Induced
Electric switch was turned on and accelerated approaching thunderstorms fury into raging!
Captain David Rintel has been flying for American Airlines for more than 20 years, but he’s never seen anything like what developed Tuesday.
“In a matter of minutes, it went from being a thunderstorm to probably the worst weather event I’ve ever lived through,” Rintel said.
Read: Texas Tornado Ratings
Rintel was flying a full Boeing-757 from Dallas/Ft. Worth International to Tulsa, Okla.
“We were more concerned about a big storm between us and Tulsa,” Rintel said, and not the storm that would eventually spawn a tornado as it approached the airport.
“When we left the gate, the radar showed a small cell coming toward the airport, but nothing bigger than a typical spring storm,” he said.
But within 15 minutes – the time it would take Rintel to taxi the plane to the runway – that little storm would take on a powerful life.
They taxied out in drizzle. Once at the runway, the American Airlines flight took its place in line for takeoff, waiting its turn along with planes from other major airlines – and even two corporate jets. Then, the drizzle turned into heavy rain. The wind gusts picked up enough that DFW stopped all departures.
Rintel had two choices: Turn around the plane and taxi back to the airport to wait out the storm, or stay put and ride out the storm. Since it would have taken another 15 minutes – or more, considering the weather – to get back to the terminal, he decided the best choice was to stay in place.
Since the engines were off, Rintel allowed the passengers to turn on their cell phones. Once they did, the passengers learned tornadoes had been reported in the area. Since an FAA regulation bans internet use from a cockpit, Rintel grabbed his own cell phone to call American Airlines dispatch in Arlington. He needed information. When dispatch picked up, they told Rintel many of their employees were in the basement, hiding from a separate tornadic cell aimed right at Arlington.
Photos: North Central Texas Storm Damage
“At this point, the rain really starts,” Rintel said. “Then the hail.” Rintel said it went from pea-sized to nickel, then quarter, then golfball-sized in a matter of moments.
“It sounded like a whole little league team was going to work on the plane with bats,” he recalled.
To make matters even worse, Rintel’s plane – and the other dozen lined up behind him – couldn’t see the storm on radar. Planes are built with the weather equipment facing north. But the tornadic cell was behind them, to the south. None of the planes had eyes on the storm, even though it was just 2.5 miles away.
Then as quickly as the storm started, it stopped. American Airlines, along with the other carriers, ordered all the planes to return to the terminal for inspection. In all, 110 planes suffered some degree of hail damage, according to the Associated Press. Rintel says his 757 “looked like a golfball,” with hundreds of divots in the metal body.
The plane may have been damaged, but none of the passengers were hurt. “No one on my plane panicked. The passengers were wonderful,” Rindel said. He said he didn’t hear about injuries on any of the dozen other planes that surrounded his on the taxiway.
Rintel doesn’t think he and the other pilots who had to sit through the storm on the taxiway made the wrong call. As a long-time pilot, he is confident all those planes pushed off with the same weather conclusion: It was nothing more than a small thunderstorm.
“At no time did I feel we were unsafe,” Rintel said. “But listening to it occur was something.”