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The Collapse of Runway 9/27

Why Runway 9/27 at Memphis International is going to collapse

by Guy Cobb

 

Memphis, Tennessee has a history of bridge and highway and tunnel collapses.  In 1980 a large section of the Perkins Road Bridge collapsed in Memphis killing one person and injured two others.  The location of the Perkins Road Bridge Collapse is less than three miles from Runway 9/27.

 

MemphisBridgeCollapse1.jpgMemphisBridgeCollapse2.jpg

 

 

On March 24, 2010 two lanes of Interstate 240 collapsed in Memphis.  A collapse of Runway 27 at Memphis International Airport will be 180 feet long and 150 feet wide.  (Commercial Appeal)

 

 

Memphis_I240collapse.jpg

 

 

 

Tennessee is Faulted in Collapse of Bridge (New York Times 1990)

 

7 Bodies Recovered in Tennessee Bridge Collapse (LA Times 1989)

 

When the Hurricane Creek drainage tunnel was installed beneath Runway 9/27 at Memphis International Airport in 1985 it was never intended to support the static weight load of the new runway constructed in 2009.  Below is a photo of the tunnel’s north entrance taken in 2006.  The tunnel was built in the aftermath of a major flood of Hurricane Creek in 1983 which left much of the Memphis International Airport’s eastern property under water.

 

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The three 10-inch-thick support walls you see in the photo above are the only supports holding up Runway 9/27 at the location where the tunnel and runway cross (see the tunnel’s path in a photo below).  According to the engineering firm of AFRAM, the capacity of these three walls to safely support the runway is conditional based on their size, the gauge and spacing of the reinforcing bars or “rebar” contained within the walls, and their continuity with the rest of the tunnel.  During a FedEx Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery inspection of the tunnel in November of 2006  you can see how the Airport Authority blocked our access to the second tunnel with a tractor to prevent us from seeing the damage in the photos below which were obtained in April of 2010.

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Above is a Google Earth satellite image of Runway 9/27 at Memphis International Airport. The red line represents the tunnel’s underground path starting from the South traveling North beneath Runway 9/27 then past the FedEx SuperHub Facility.  The path of the tunnel was laid out specifically to avoid passing beneath the FedEx SuperHub’s buildings.

 

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Above is a Google Sketchup drawing of the Hurricane Creek tunnel structure.  The red lines shown at the center designate the placement of the five walls that are being crushed by the weight of the new Runway 9/27 which passes across the ceiling of the tunnel.

 

Above is a 2009 construction diagram displaying the tunnel’s path beneath Runway 9/27.  The five dashed lines shown in the diagram between the red arrows running at a horizontal angle represent the five walls of the Hurricane Creek Tunnel beneath the runway.  Rather than reinforce the failing tunnel, FedEx and the Memphis Airport Authority conspired to replace the asphalt runway with a much heavier concrete runway believing this would correct the issue with the damaged tunnel.  The results are that the section of tunnel directly beneath the runway has broken away from the rest of the tunnel and is being crushed downward.

 

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Above is a 1984 cross-section diagram of the Hurricane Creek Tunnel.  The tunnel is nearly 60 feet wide and only supported by the three 10-inch-wide by 14-foot-tall inner walls.

 

In 2006, prior to the cancellation of FedEx’s A380 Airbuses, the Memphis Airport Authority commissioned a study by AFRAM Corporation to see if the airport’s infrastructure would be able to support the 1.3 million pound aircraft. AFRAM’s two critical factors specific to the tunnel were the size and spacing of the tunnel wall’s reinforcement bars (rebar) and the amount of ground cover between the tunnel’s ceiling and the bottom of the runway.

AFRAM’s calculations required from 6 to 10 feet of ground cover between the top of the tunnel and bottom of the runway and #8 rebar at 6 inch spacing.  This construction diagram below is proof that the rebar inside the tunnel’s support walls is #4 gauge rebar at 12 inch spacing (half AFRAM’s original recommendation) based on the tunnel’s 1984 construction diagram below.  See box below in red which states “#4 @ 12 Each Way Each Face”.

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It’s critical to note that AFRAM published one study of which two versions were released.  AFRAM’s original study and calculations were based on the size and weight of the 2006 asphalt runway, not the significantly heavier loads of the new concrete runway.  Here is proof.  On page 1 paragraph 2 of the original AFRAM study, under the Hurricane Creek Culvert section, Engineer and study author, Benjamin Bovee of AFRAM, stated the following:

“It should be noted that for covers greater than and equal to 3’, a uniform weight for 18” of pavement was used, in addition to the remaining cover of soil.”  Read Report

The new runway is 20” of Portland concrete and has four additional layers which include cement, a bituminous base course, crushed aggregate, and a soil cement mixture.  The entire runway above the tunnel was raised an additional 6 to 10 feet to correct what FedEx Pilots referred to as “the dip” and the Memphis Airport Authority referred to as a “profile deficiency.”

Following my study of the Hurricane Creek Tunnel to FedEx Express Management in January of 2007, no new study was ever commissioned to calculate the effects of the new concrete runway’s significantly heavier loads upon the Hurricane Creek tunnel as was promised by Tom Clarke, the Memphis Airport Authority’s Manager of Planning.  I know this because of this email sent by Sara Hall, the Memphis Airport Authority’s Legal Counsel to me on January 7, 2010:

“In response to your request for a “second study”, we have identified a February 6, 2007 structural analysis of the existing Hurricane Creek Box Culvert, Taxiway Yankee Tunnel and Winchester Road Tunnel related to the structural requirements of the Airbus A-380.  This study was performed by Benjamin Bovee, Structural Designer for AFRAM Corporation.  This study concludes: “The Hurricane Creek Box Culvert evaluation concluded that the structure can handle the loads of the Airbus A-380 as long as the soil/cover depths are at least 6’-0”.  It was determined from a field survey that the actual cover over the box is at least 10’0”.  This concludes that the box can sufficiently handle the loads imposed by the A-380.”  As you are probably aware, FedEx has decided to use the Boeing 777 instead of the Airbus A-380.  The payload of the Boeing 777 is much less than that of the Airbus A-380 making a loaded Boeing 777 a much lighter aircraft.”

What is significant about this statement by Ms. Hall is the removal of the critical “rebar” requirements as a factor in AFRAM’s calculations.  The fact is that AFRAM was asked to clarify some aspects of the original report by removing any questions or concerns about the tunnels rebar. Here are the two AFRAM Executive Summaries specific to the Hurricane Creek tunnel:

AFRAM Study (1) – Executive Summary (September 14, 2006):

“The Hurricane Creek Box Culvert evaluation shows that the box can handle the loads of the Airbus A380 as long as the soil/cover depths above the box are at least 3’ deep.  For depths less than this, the box will be overstressed and should be strengthened to handle the loads.  Also, if the soil cover is less than 6’, additional reinforcing will be required to account for the short length of the J-bars.   In Addition, the interior wall reinforcing needs to be confirmed that #8 bars at 6” spacing was used.  If less steel was used, the interior walls may need to be reinforced.”

AFRAM Study Revised (2) – Executive Summary (February 6, 2007):

Hurricane Creek Box Culvert:

“The Hurricane Creek Box Culvert evaluation concluded that the structure can handle the loads of the Airbus A-380 as long as the soil/cover depths are at least 6’-0”. It was determined from a field survey that the actual cover over the box is at least 10’-0”.  This concludes that the box can sufficiently handle the loads imposed by the A-380.”

The significance here is not only were critical structural requirements removed from the original AFRAM study but Kimley-Horn, the Memphis Airport Authority’s primary contractor for the construction of the new heavier runway, based their structural calculations for the new runway on the dimensions of the old runway.  This is why the new runway is sinking and the tunnel’s interior support walls are being crushed beneath it.

Videos recorded in April 2010 of the damaged walls beneath Runway 9/27

(Click images to watch videos)

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A Look at the Calculations

AFRAM stated in their study that if a 1.3 million pound A380 were parked on top of the Hurricane Creek tunnel without any ground cover, the walls of the tunnel would not be able to support the aircraft. This was a baseline to show that the three interior support walls cannot support 1.3 million pounds placed directly on top of the tunnel.

See below a weight comparison between the old and new runway.

Old Runway 9/27

surface and sub-surface materials

Square foot weight in pounds

Lbs per inch

Depth of layer

Area over tunnel in feet

Weight on tunnel ceiling in pounds

Asphalt

140

11.6

14”

15,000

2,436,000

Crushed Aggregate

150

12.5

8”

15,000

1,500,000

*Dirt between runway & tunnel

100

8.3

120”

15,000

14,940,000

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

18,876,000

 

 

New Runway 9/27

surface and sub-surface materials

Square foot weight in pounds

Lbs per inch

Depth of layer

Area over tunnel in feet

Weight on tunnel ceiling in pounds

Portland Cement Concrete

150

12.5

20”

15,000

3,750,000

Porous Bituminous Base Course

100

8.3

4”

15,000

498,000

Cement + Aggregate

150

12.5

8”

15,000

1,500,000

Soil Cement Combination

140

11.6

20”

15,000

3,480,000

*Dirt between runway & tunnel

100

8.3

120”

15,000

14,940,000

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

24,168,000

 

*The MSCAA maintains that a 10 foot layer of ground cover is still in place above the tunnel and beneath the new runway.

Weight Difference in pounds = 5,292,000

 

The September 19, 2004 FedEx MD-11 Accident

In September 2004 a FedEx MD-11 was involved in an accident while landing on Runway 9/27.  The NTSB report stated that the aircraft landed 30 feet off-center and suddenly pitched upward after landing and then bounced.  Concerned the aircraft would “porpoise” the pilot decided to perform a “go around” to land on another runway. When he did the tail of the plane struck the runway and was observed by ground personnel dragging for approximately 3000 to 4000 feet.  If the tail of the plane dragged for 3000 to 4000 feet, as witnessed by ground personnel during the attempt to take off again, then the tail-strike distance plus the distance covered when the jet landed would have caused the tail of the plane to drag across the top of the Hurricane Creek tunnel’s path.

FedEx Express, the FAA and the Memphis Airport Authority worked together to keep damage to the tunnel’s three support walls caused by the accident hidden and the accident kept out of the press. Based on the NTSB report, the accident caused significant damage to the aircraft’s airframe and could have of easily resulted in a crash in South Memphis and yet I cannot find any mention of the accident anywhere in the press (contact me if you are aware of any story in the news related to this accident).

Below is a Google Earth satellite photo of Runway 9/27 in February 2004, seven months prior to the FedEx MD-11 accident in September. FedEx pilots refer to this section of Runway 9/27 as “the dip” or “the hump.”  Sara Hall, the Memphis Airport Authority’s former Legal Counsel provided details about this section of the runway in this email received on March 5, 2010:

“In approximately 1985, the runway was open cut in this location to construct the Hurricane Creek box culvert.  The lines you identify appear to be the two outer edges of the section of pavement that was replaced after the Hurricane Creek box culvert was constructed.  Then in approximately 1989, the center keel section of the runway was replaced which explains why you do not see the lines or joints for the pavement section in the center of the runway.” – Sara Hall, MSCAA Legal Counsel

Through the Freedom of Information Act I requested the inspection records for the Memphis International Airport runways for the year 2003.  The following is my question and the response I received from Winsome A. Lenfert, Manager of the FAA’s Airports Division for the Southern Region (letter dated August 23, 2011) specific to the above photograph of Runway 9/27 in 2004:

 

The following is an excerpt from a letter to Winsome Lenfert, FAA Manager of Airports for the Southeast.  I asked Mr. Lenfert why the FAA’s 2003 runway inspection records made no mention of the damage clearly shown in this Google earth image:

 

“The Google Earth image below of Runway 27 was captured on February 28, 2003 and shows the location directly above the Hurricane Creek Tunnel.  The Memphis Airport Authority’s attorney, Sara Hall, confirmed for me that the two largest vertical fractures are the location where the runway was “open cut” in 1985 to install the tunnel.  

Could you explain why the FAA’s 2003 inspection record section 139.305 - .307 PAVED/UNPAVED AREAS makes no mention of the runways large fractures and cracks?”

“At the time of the 2003 annual inspection, no large fractures and cracks were found to be in existence on the runway surface.  Safety was furthered [sic] assured with the airport’s daily self-inspection program.”

Winsome A. Lenfert, FAA Mgr., Airports Division

 

 

Without the introduction of Google Earth satellite photographs and the validation of the existence of the above runway fractures by Sara Hall, Lead Counsel for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, the flying public would never have known that that the condition of Runway 9/27 had degraded to the point you see in the photograph.  Below is the actual inspection record for the Memphis International Airport Runway for 2003:

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Below is the same section of Runway 9/27 directly above the tunnel in November of 2006. I reported this shadowing taking place along the old “open cut” lines to FedEx Express Management in 2007 after seeing this satellite photo using Microsoft Bing Maps.  I also reported this to the Memphis Airport Authority’s former Chief of Planning, Tom Clarke, on January 18, 2007 (see page 11 of my Enterprise Vulnerability Study 001).

 

 

Above is another image of the same location from a different angle.  You can see that the runway has a distinct pattern developing along the 1985 “open cut” line between the arrows.

 

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Above is an aerial photograph taken on December 10, 2009, only ten days after the new runway was opened.  You can see a circular pattern (seen here inside the red square) has developed directly above the Hurricane Creek Tunnel crossing.

 

“To my knowledge, there have been no reports from our Airfield Maintenance staff or others of any observations of structural failures or damage in the box culvert.  If FedEx personnel have observed any structural damage, please provide the details and we will investigate.”

[Tom Clarke email to Guy Cobb, sent Friday, January 12, 2007 6:51 PM]

 

Below are photographs of tunnel ceiling damage on the FedEx property taken in April 2010

damage.jpg

 

Based on AFRAM’s engineering study which stated there needed to be a minimum of 6 to 10 feet of “cover” or earth between the tunnel ceiling and any aircraft passing over the tunnel, we know the taxiways that cross the tunnel near the FedEx SuperHub have no cover. These images show the type of damage AFRAM was describing in their study.

 

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The image above shows the original tunnel which was installed on the FedEx property prior to the 1985 tunnel which was installed on Airport property.

 

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Above is a photograph of the section of the Hurricane Creek Tunnel installed in 1985.  You can see the pre-fabricated “lay-in-place” ceiling panels referenced in Kimley-Horn’s May 2010 report.  If you do not see these lay-in-place ceiling panels you know that you are in a section of the tunnel that is on FedEx property.

 

 

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Above you can see where the wall directly below Runway 9/27 was replaced (to the right) and where the wall was struck by a vehicle which knocked a large piece of the concrete loose (red circle).  The Airport Authority continue to deny these walls are damaged or that they were replaced after their original 1985 construction and yet you can see that the dirt, mold, and color patterns between these two sections does not match. All five tunnel walls directly beneath Runway 9/27 have broken away from their adjoining walls.

 

 

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The photo above is an April 2009 construction photo of the new Runway 9/27.  The red circle marks the location where the tunnel passes beneath Runway 9/27.  There were no provisions made for the reinforcement of the tunnel walls despite the significantly heavier load of the new runway.

 

Based on AFRAM’s original calculations as to how much weight the tunnel can support we now know that there is between 5 and 10 million pounds of excess weight overloading the tunnel.

SO HOW CAN YOU TELL IF THE WALLS ARE DAMAGED AND OVERLOADED?

This overload would cause tremendous stress to the tunnel’s three inner support walls.  What would the walls look like if they were overloaded?  The following are photos taken of the walls directly below Runway 9/27. You can clearly see that the walls are bulging outward from the center. You can also see that the newer wall to the right has separated from the older adjoining tunnel wall on the left along the seam.  Someone has attempted to patch where the wall has been struck and damaged by a vehicle’s bumper.  There are multiple walls beneath the runway that show vehicle damage caused by bumper level impacts.

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Below is another wall directly beneath the runway. You can see where it has separated 2 to 3 inches from the wall to the left and is now bulging out at the center.   The survey marker “27” designates the wall’s location directly below the runway.

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This image below shows how the newer wall (to the right) directly below the runway has fractured and broken away from the adjoining wall and is bulging outward at its center due to the excessive weight of the runway above.  At the bottom of the photograph you can see where there was an attempt to hide damage to the wall by using concrete patch (bottom center).

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A survey crew left this message during the creation of their May 2010 Kimley-Horn study.  Like this image, which was never meant to be seen, the report unsuccessfully attempted to cover up the full damage to the tunnel; in particular the walls directly beneath the runway. 

 

In summary, without an appropriate bridge span over the tunnel, Runway 9/27 will continue to crush the top of the Hurricane Creek tunnel until the #4 rebar inside the walls finally snaps causing the runway to collapse.

 

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Above is the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority’s April 2009 online newsletter describing the reconstruction of Runway 9/27.  A 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) report found that the average time to plan and safely construct a new runway was from ten to fourteen years.  The Runway 9/27 project was “Fast Tracked” and completed in 8 months. 

None of the concrete used in the new runway is reinforced. Using rebar in the new runway would have taken too long to complete.  The project was forced by FedEx Express to be completed by December 1st, 2009; in time for FedEx’s busiest month. No additional funding or time was allocated to reinforce the tunnel beneath the runway even though FedEx Express Management and the Memphis Airport Authority both knew of the tunnel’s defects.

 

PHOTO INDEX of THE HURRICANE CREEK TUNNEL

These photos taken of the Hurricane Creek tunnel (comprised of four individual tunnels) on April 17, 2010 should once and for all prove that the three interior tunnel support walls will not hold up beneath the weight of the new runway.  As you can see in these pictures, the weight of the new runway has already caused the walls to break away from the adjoining walls. This will only worsen until the rebar which the AFRAM Corporation warned in their first report was too small; will eventually snap leaving no support for the runway which will collapse. After clicking on each image link, you can click each picture to see a much larger image.

Photos

Date of Photo

Description for Tunnels “A” “B” “C” “D”

Image 1

April 17,  2010

Ceiling damage

Image 2

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 3

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 4

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 5

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 6

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 7

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 8

April 17, 2010

Surveyor location marker in tunnel “D” at “12+00” which translates into 1200 yards + zero feet (warning: some profanity)

Image 9

April 17, 2010

Surveyor location marker in tunnel “D” at “12+00” which translates into 1200 yards + zero feet (warning: some profanity)

Image 10

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 11

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 12

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 13

April 17, 2010

Ceiling damage

Image 14

April 17, 2010

Wall buckling beneath runway 9/27

Image 15

April 17, 2010

Close-up of wall buckling and spot where someone patched it

Image 16

April 17, 2010

Close-up of wall buckling

Image 17

April 17, 2010

Bottom section of wall buckling

Image 18

April 17, 2010

Opposite wall showing buckling

Image 19

April 17, 2010

Surveyor location marker at “27+00” is beneath Runway 9/27

Image 20

April 17, 2010

Wall buckling beneath runway 9/27

Image 21

April 17, 2010

Wall buckling beneath runway 9/27

Image 22

April 17, 2010

Not sure what this is but supposedly it smelled like jet fuel and oil

Image 23

April 17, 2010

Graffiti

Image 24

April 17, 2010

Graffiti

Image 25

April 17, 2010

Graffiti

Image 26

April 17, 2010

Wall beneath runway 9/27 meeting tunnel wall

Image 27

April 17, 2010

Drainage tunnel

 

 

 

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT HURRICANE CREEK, ANONYMOUSLY OR OTHERWISE, YOU MAY CONTACT ME AT guy@guycobb.com

 

This documentation and the author, Guy Cobb, are protected by the United States Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 Section 806 -- Protection for Employees of Publicly Traded Companies Who Provide Evidence of Fraud; the False Claims Act; the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act For the 21st Century (AIR21) Public Law 106-181, April 5, 2000 49 USC Section 42121 Subchapter III – Whistleblower Protection Program and the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act, Article 4 Section 1553.

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