Moffat County bills TWA for damage

Commissioners want compensation for inadvertent landing at Craig airport

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— When A TransWorld Airlines MD-80 jetliner with 117 passengers on board landed at the Craig/Moffat Airport March 14, it was in the wrong place at the right time. Now the Moffat County Board of Commissioners wants TWA to write the board a check.

TWA Flight 641 was bound for Yampa Valley Regional Airport from St. Louis when its pilots mistakenly touched down at the wrong airport. The Craig airport is 17 miles west of YVRA, and the runway was not built for commercial jets.

After an abrupt but otherwise safe landing, the plane went off the edge of the runway and became stuck. No one was hurt in the incident.

Visibility at Yampa Valley Regional Airport was bad at

2 p.m. March 14 as the jet flew over, and periodic ground blizzards had kept some flights from landing that day. Passengers on board the plane, which had started its run to YVRA in Atlanta, Ga., that morning, weren't aware of the pilots' gaffe until they called people waiting for them at the gate in YVRA to announce their arrival.

"We've landed in Hayden," Danny Akin of Louisville, Ky., told his friend over the phone.

"No you haven't," his friend replied. "You're in Craig."

Akin said he turned to the flight attendant and asked "Where are we?" The reply came back: "I don't know."

The passengers were transferred by taxi to YVRA and later to their lodgings in Steamboat. The unloaded jet flew out uneventfully a couple of days later.

If the commissioners are to collect on their $1,300 bill, they'll have to squeeze the money out of an airline that is struggling financially and on the verge of being acquired by American Airlines.

"We've sent them a bill for the agencies that had to deal with the emergency," Moffat County Administrative Services Director Debra Murray said. "We charged them $1,300 for the hours the road and bridge department had to spend at the airport and for the time the Sheriff's Department put in handling the emergency. We also included with that bill a letter letting TWA know we will be monitoring the runway, and any additional damage we discover, they'll be liable for."

It's not known whether the airline will pay some or all of what the county has charged.

"Obviously, we're hoping they'll just pay the bill we sent them, but they might disagree with some of the charges we sent," Murray said. "We'll have to wait and see how they respond and deal with it then."

The letter was written by County Attorney Tom Thornberry, and it keeps open the possibility of future costs being charged to TWA.

"What we are doing with the letter is putting them on notice that any damages we discover that are connected with the landing, they will be responsible for," Murray said. "It's possible some of the damage might not show up for a year or more, and we will be examining the runway to make sure it's safe and undamaged.

"We also let them know we would welcome them to examine (the runway) with their own people if they choose to. We want to be fair about this process."

Tom Ross contributed to this report.

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