Jets in Australian tarmac crash

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SYDNEY—Two commercial jets collided on the tarmac at Australia’s Melbourne airport Saturday, officials said, damaging the aircraft but causing no injury to passengers.

The crash, between a reversing Virgin Australia 737 and an A320 Jetstar craft, saw one jet lose part of its tail cone and the other suffer wing damage, according to engineers who witnessed the damage.

“There were no injuries from (an) accident involving two aircraft which made contact while taxiing this morning, (which is) now under investigation,” Melbourne Airport said on its Twitter feed.

“Airport operations as normal. Two gates temporarily out of use pending investigation.”

The Virgin aircraft, bound for Maroochydore and carrying 175 passengers, hit an empty Jetstar plane as it was leaving the gate for take-off at about 9:30am, Virgin said.

Its wing-tip was damaged but the Jetstar aircraft lost the end of its tail cone, said engineer Paul Cousins, who described it as a lucky escape and put the damage bill at at least Aus$3 million (US$2.75 million) for each airline.

“They were very lucky that the winglet did not go into the (tail cone’s) auxiliary power unit, which is a small jet engine that runs in the back of the aircraft,” Cousins, who is president of the national aircraft engineers’ union, told The Age newspaper.

“It could have caused that engine to rupture… bits and pieces could have come out it and gone flying everywhere.”

Disembarking Virgin passenger Luke Grima said there was a serious thud and exclamations of “Oh my God we’ve just hit another plane” as the jets collided.

“It was as if we ran over something,” Grima told the Herald Sun newspaper.

“When we looked out the wing, we could just see the end of the wing had come off and the other Jetstar plane has got some pretty serious damage to its rear.”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said there were “very well-practiced procedures in place” for aircraft gate manoeuvres and it had launched a probe.

“The ATSB is investigating the ground collision in Melbourne today,” the authority said.

“Investigators will arrive in Melbourne this afternoon.”

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