ALBERTON – The last of three Boeing 737 fuselages that slid down a steep embankment to the Clark Fork River in a train wreck last Thursday has been retrieved.
Lynda Frost, spokeswoman for Montana Rail Link, the company responsible for the recovery, said the commercial jetliner body that had been partially submerged in the Clark Fork River downstream from the Fish Creek interchange in Mineral County was hoisted up to track level by noon Wednesday.
The first was removed Sunday in a lengthy process that closed MRL tracks until 7 p.m. The second was cleared by 4 p.m. Monday, Frost said.
For the most part, rafters and kayakers on the lower stretch of the Alberton Gorge were able to float by throughout the recovery efforts.
In all 19 cars derailed in the wreck on the afternoon before Independence Day. They included six that carried 737 fuselages and others carrying parts for a Boeing 747 and a 777. The jet parts were en route from a fabricating plant in Wichita, Kansas, to final assembly plants in the Seattle area – in Renton for the 737s and Everett for the 747 jumbo jets and 777s.
A statement from Boeing on Monday said there was minimal damage to the latter parts but a team of experts on the scene was assessing damage to the fuselages. The three on the river bank had visible scrapes and, in at least one case, a break in the upper shell.
A Boeing spokesman said Tuesday the company isn’t likely to have a comment for several days.
According to Steve Wilhelm of the Puget Sound Business Journal, the team will have some tough choices to make on the body shells.
“The question is not if it can be repaired, it’s a matter of how much money do you want to spend on it,” the president of an aerospace analyst company in San Diego told Wilhelm. “Since they are brand-new fuselages, and probably bare, the economic consideration may be tending more toward repair; that’s a possibility.”
The 737s are Boeing’s smallest and most popular commercial aircraft, and the company bumped up production earlier this year to 42 a month. According to the company website, the planes ranged in price from $76 million to $109.9 million in 2013, depending on the model.
An industry analyst in 2009 told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer “nobody pays list price and the discount is normally at least 15 percent.”