United 737 Sidelined After Football Charter


A United Airlines Boeing 737-900 apparently had to be taken out of service after a strange ramp accident at Lewiston-Nez Perce Airport in Idaho on Friday. The airport doesn’t normally see full-sized airliners and there is speculation that might have something to do with it ending up on its tail with half a college football team still onboard on Friday evening. The 737 took the USC team from Los Angeles to Lewiston for a matchup scheduled with the Washington State Cougars in nearby Pullman, Washington, the following day. As the baggage was unloaded from the front compartment and the team and staff left by the front door, the plane settled back on its tail with the nosewheel about 15 feet above the ramp. Those airplanes need a tail support during offloading to prevent them from tipping backward but the ramp crews at Lewiston normally service smaller regional jets and turboprops and omitted that step.

No one was hurt and the airplane was righted quickly, allowing the remaining team members to deplane. The incident apparently didn’t rattle the California squad. They went on to beat the Cougars 45-14 on Saturday. The airplane may not have fared as well. According to FlightAware, the aircraft was supposed to head back to L.A. that night but the flight was apparently rescheduled for at 8 a.m. Saturday. That flight was also canceled. The airplane stayed in Lewiston until late Sunday when it was flown to Houston, where United has a major maintenance base. It’s not clear how the USC football team got back to Los Angeles.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. 737s need a tail support as a routine process for offloading? I know of some regional turboprops that do, but didn’t think a 737 needed one as well.

  2. No surprise. This has happened to pretty much every commercial jet out there. I flew the Classic 747 as a freighter for 16 years and everyone knew to load the forward belly first and offload it last. Of course, we were careful to get pallets into A, B, and C comps up top before anything else and offload them last.
    This incident had it’s start with the “charter” department at United. While they were arranging the trip support they should have asked very carefully about how many 737-types the ground service company works. “Few” to “none” should have triggered a need to send along or preposition a ground rep. No one uses a tail stand for pretty much anything around the United “system” because they know not to unload the front first. Also, the crew should have offloaded the pax a bit more evenly out of caution, but they likely weren’t briefed either.

    • I don’t know pt 121 charter procedures but one would think the captain would have known about the loading and offloading procedures that are part of this airplane. When I flew a Saab 340 cargo plane I knew the loading and offloading procedures including use of the tail stand. Never put one on its tail myself as I was told of the extensive repairs required if it did happen.

  3. Even short bodies are susceptible. Got an urgent call from the ramp to the 727-100 flight deck one night in Pohnpei saying something was wrong with our nose gear. Turned out it was fully extended and the wheel about an inch off the ground. Tip over was prevented by the aft air stair which was down/locked..

  4. Maybe having all the passengers crowd to the front of the airplane the moment it arrives at the gate isn’t such a bad idea after all!

  5. I saw this happen to an F-5 when all the avionics were removed from the nose for an upgrade. It pointed up REAL high in the hangar, dinged the afterburner eyelids! Also saw it happen to a Cessna 414 when the passengers got on before the 2 pilots. TOM C-BUFFALO

  6. I knew that college football players were getting larger, but wow! Maybe from now on, they need to change the seating chart so that all the big linemen sit up front and the coaches and “smaller” skill players sit in back.