Storm Damages 40 Planes, 1000+ Stranded Overnight Wednesday

Denver International Airport Spokeswoman Say 3/4-Inch Hail Fell For About 15 Minutes

The severe thunderstorm that unleashed hail, lightning and torrential rain in the metro area Wednesday night damaged dozens of cars and at least 40 airplanes at Denver International Airport, leaving more than 1,000 travelers stranded because of flight cancellations.

The storm produced 3/4-inch hail which fell for about 15 minutes, but that was enough to cause extensive damage to approximately 40 aircraft, said DIA spokeswoman Laura Coale.

Nearly all the airlines suffered from aircraft damage and had to cancel flights, she said.

Some flights were delayed for an hour Wednesday night and some were canceled completely, prompting more than 1,000 travelers, including Wisconsin's governor, to spend the night at the airport.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted Thursday morning, "Headed 2 bi-partisan Nat Gov's Assn meetings. Got stuck in Denver airport & slept on the floor (did get a pillow & blanket)."

"People here r very nice ... We slept on the floor in a conference room (security recommended it) on the A concourse. Airport staff grabbed us a blanket and small pillow ... I've been in this same suit for the past 28 hours but we are about to depart for Salt Lake City, so I'm happy. The staff here was outstanding," he continued.

More Than 100 Flights Canceled Thursday; Travelers Wait In Long Lines

More than 100 flights have been canceled Thursday and travelers are encouraged to check their flight status with their airlines or on FlyDenver.com.

The lines to the Frontier Airlines counter Thursday afternoon after a storm damaged several Frontier planes at Denver International Airport and caused flight cancellations.

United Airlines has canceled 38 departing and 56 arriving flights, but doesn't have a number of how many planes were damaged. Crews are inspecting aircraft now to assess the damage, said United spokesman Mike Trevino.

Frontier Airlines has taken eight to 10 aircraft out of service because of damage, and has canceled at least 20 flights, said Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk. He said the storm damaged multiple aircraft types across their fleet from the Airbus to the turboprop. The planes have damage ranging from hail dents to small holes, he said.

Frontier continues to assess the situation and may have to make more cancellations if crews find more issues while they are inspecting the planes, Kowalchuk said. He said the maintenance folks have to inspect the aircraft's entire skin and if the plane has hail dents, the airline can’t fly that aircraft, Kowalchuk said.

Aircraft that need repair have to be ferried or flown to another location. Pilots will fly the damaged planes out to repair facilities in various locations throughout the country and as long as there are no passengers on board, this is legal, Kowalchuk said.

Frontier is also assessing all aircraft as they land in airports that were in the proximity of the storm Wednesday and that is also causing delays, Kowalchuk said.

"I’m sure you are aware that many airlines could claim they are not responsible for providing lodging for their passengers for events that are acts of God as was this storm. Frontier is doing all we can to live up to our commitment to provide for the needs of our guests in the aftermath of the storm, including reaccommodating passengers on other airlines, when there is availability, and providing lodging as might be needed at no cost for guests stranded away from their home city by the cancellations. We are also arranging short term leases from other carriers and providers to help us alleviate our backlog. We will have aircraft coming back into service tomorrow and Saturday to help as well. We will know more about those aircraft that sustained greater damage in coming days and will be able to provide information on those as it becomes available," Kowalchuk said in a Thursday night email to the Denver media.

The airport released photos of a plane with its wing partially torn off. It was not clear what airline the plane belonged to. (See more storm damage at Denver International Airport.)

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said the airline had 12 aircraft on the ground at the time of the storm and crews found three planes with hail damage. One plane has returned to service but two have to be ferried off-site for repair. However, Southwest has not had to cancel flights Wednesday night or Thursday morning and the airline is operating as usual, McInnis said.

Storm as it approaches the airport Wednesday night.

Both United and Frontier have waived their change fees for passengers hoping to rebook their flights from now until July 19.

Susan Rivas learned her United flight to Madison, Wis., was canceled when she arrived at the check-in counter Thursday morning.

"I went to check my bag and found out that our flight was canceled," Rivas said. "They said that they had rebooked me for a 4 o'clock flight, but the 4 o'clock flight is overbooked."

Cars Pockmarked By Hail

There are also multiple reports of vehicle damage due to hail -- both vehicles involved in the airport's operation and vehicles parked in the DIA lots -- but Coale did not have an estimate of how many vehicles were damaged. She said the Airside Airport Operations vehicles sustained light to moderate hail damage and are drivable.

DIA's Parking Department is out looking at all the lots and if there is a vehicle with significant damage the airport will try to let the person know, Coale said.

Gretchen Muniz, of Aurora, found hail damage on her car when she returned to the outdoor lot.

"Yeah, I was looking at the other cars on the way over just to see what might be waiting for me," Muniz said.

She said she was surprised by all the flight cancellations, considering that some of the damage seemed minor.

"It doesn't seem like it would jeopardize, something as small dents, would jeopardize a whole plane flying but I'm glad I made it home," Muniz said.

The deluge struck between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. At 9:05 p.m. the National Weather Service issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning that included DIA. The airport said it has not seen any damage to the facility at this point.

Damage assessment continues as the airport and airlines investigate.

Please refresh this page and watch 7NEWS at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. for a live report.

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