Montana river: Three fuselages slow to be retrieved from water

Montana river: Fuselages from three Boeing aircraft tumbled into the Clark Fork river after a train derailment Thursday. Crews began to pull the three fuselages out of the Montana river Sunday.

Three airplane fuselages that slid down a steep embankment into a river following a train derailment in northern Montana state could take until Tuesday to remove, railroad officials said Sunday.

"The progress is going extremely slow," Montana Rail Link spokeswoman Lynda Frost said. "If we get one up today, it would appear it will take one day each to get them out."

She said a crew of 50 with eight heavy-equipment machines was working together to hoist up the three Boeing 737 fuselages, the large, central portions of planes that hold passengers.

Six fuselages were aboard a westbound train when 19 cars derailed Thursday, sending the three fuselages into the Clark Fork River. The three remaining plane sections also fell off but stayed on land. No one was injured in the derailment, which is under investigation.

Boeing said in a statement that it has experts at the scene to assess the damage. Marc Birtel, director of media relations, said Sunday that he didn't have information on what the experts have decided.

The fuselages were traveling from a Spirit AeroSystems plant in Wichita, Kansas, to a Boeing facility in Renton, Washington, to be assembled into airliners.

Meanwhile, rafters on the popular Clark Fork River have a surreal view as they pass the fuselages near a river feature called Mermaid Rock.

"They really get to see the enormous size of those aircraft," said Josh Flanagan of Wiley E. Waters, a rafting company. "It's not something you expect to float past when you're on a river trip."

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said there are no plans to close the Clark Fork during the cleanup, but brief delays could occur in the area when the 737 fuselages and other parts are moved, according to the Missoulian.

One such delay occurred about 1 p.m. Sunday, when floaters were held up about half an hour, said FWP spokeswoman Christine Oschell. “It’s possible there will be other brief delays on the river,” she said.

MRL has been working with FWP and the Whitewater Rescue Institute to keep the river open during the cleanup.

Members of the Whitewater Rescue Institute are on the river informing floaters of what had happened and watching for hazards. They will remain there throughout the cleanup. “We intend to keep (the river) open unless we feel that there is a safety concern,” Oschell said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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