Heat melts tarmac, and stalls jet departure

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 08, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-09 00:54:57-04

Credit: Phillip Dugaw

The above photo, taken by Phillip Dugaw, shows how hot it has been recently on the East Coast—hot enough for the tarmac to melt and sink a jet plane.

 A U.S. Airways flight leaving Reagan National Airport on Friday was delayed by three hours when the plane sunk a few inches into the blacktop.

Dugaw said, in an email interview, that a representative with the company had never seen this happen before, even at hotter airports like Phoenix, where temperatures daily surpass 100 degrees. 

Dugaw said that normally planes park on concrete surfaces, whereas that plane was parked on blacktop pavement, which isn’t designed to hold as much weight—especially not when the tarmac has softened from heat.

Dugaw said that the tug vehicle used to tow planes away from gates could not budge the 50-seat jet. The passengers, some crew members and luggage were deplaned to lighten the weight.

“While they did this we remained out on the tarmac in a bus they had brought out,” said Dugaw. “During each step they also tried to blast the engines to have the engines propel it out.”

When the tug vehicle still couldn’t budge the jet, a bigger tow vehicle was utilized. This larger tug successfully pulled the jet from the sunken rut and moved it to a place where it could start its engines.

The plane, headed to Charleston, S.C., was then on its way.

Dugaw, whose photo has been viewed almost a million times on Reddit, said “it was a funny experience that sums up how hot it’s been!”

“At first, it was a very frustrating and annoying experience, but looking back its just a funny story,” he added. “Even the airline staff was a little amused as they had never encountered this before and didn’t know what to do.”

The temperature at Reagan National reached a high of 98 on Friday, according to the National Weather Service, although on Saturday they reached a high of 105 degrees. Bloomberg reports that more than 2,438 high-temperature records were broken in the U.S. over the past 11 days.  

Meteorologist Mark Paquette, at Inc., compared this heat wave with one in mid-July of 1988 in the mid- Atlantic and Northeast, in which 1,173 records were broken, reported Bloomberg.