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Jet bridge dangers uncovered by CBS News Radio investigation

Maintenance reports, obtained by CBS News Radio through public records requests, reveal damaged jet bridges and safety hazards at major U.S. airports including those serving Washington, D.C., Denver, Salt Lake City, Honolulu, Anchorage and Kansas City. The jet bridge is the portable enclosed passageway extending between airport gates to airplanes. It's used by passengers to board and exit the plane.

Listen to the CBS News Radio report here:

The documents detail incidents of passengers and airport employee injuries on jet bridges. One report found "flooring missing" on a Salt Lake City International Airport jet bridge that caused an agent to twist her ankle. A Salt Lake City maintenance worker in January 2017 also found "outside landing area flooring feels like someone could fall through." Three months later a maintenance report noted four people had fallen on a "yellow strip" that posed a slipping hazard on a jet bridge.

The airport says it uses a contractor to perform regular inspections of jet bridges and takes safety seriously.

"Steps are taken immediately to correct an issue when a problem is identified," according to Nancy Volmer, a Salt Lake City International Airport spokesperson. 

FILE: Jet bridges at Denver International Airport I, Cacophony, via Wikimedia Commons

Tripping hazards, like those at Salt Lake City's airport, are some of the most common issues found on jet bridges.

In a lawsuit, Wendy Murphy, of Bellwood, Ill., said she tripped and fell over a metal ring holding in place a wooden panel on a jet bridge in Fayetteville, N.C.

"I could see that I had tripped over something," she said. "It was sticking up in the bridge."

Murphy said she injured her shoulder, requiring physical therapy and medication.

Other maintenance reports found cracked and falling glass, loose cables, hydraulic leaks and broken wheels.

The findings come after a series of jet bridge mishaps in recent years, including some collapsing at airports in Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and Baltimore—where six people were hurt in December.

Maryland transit officials blamed a defective metal bracket for the collapse.

Some jet bridge accidents in recent years have even turned deadly.

In February, a maintenance worker was killed by an exploding jet bridge tire at John Wayne Airport workshop in Orange County, California.

Across the country, jet bridges are aging into maintenance challenges. With some as old as 30 years, mechanics are battling corroding rust and aging safety features in complex components.

"They're complicated," said aviation maintenance consultant Matthew Lykins. "If you have issues with the electric drive motors or the hydraulic lift systems--these are safety sensitive and safety critical systems on the bridge and would require immediate remediation and repair."

Often it's up to airports to ensure jet bridges are safe, but at Chicago Midway International Airport, aviation attorney Patrick Murphy is blaming a consortium of airlines responsible for the jet bridge where his client tripped and fell over a rusted deformed hump in 2014, breaking her arm.

"That should have been inspected certainly on a monthly basis, and if it had been that hump would have been discovered, and she wouldn't have been injured," he said.

Two of the largest manufacturers of jet bridges are defending their safety records.

"Over a million passengers travel safely through our boarding bridges daily on a global basis," a spokesperson for JBT wrote in a statement to CBS News.

"Ensuring safe and reliable travel on our escalators, moving walks and passenger boarding bridges is an absolute commitment," a spokesman for ThyssenKrupp told CBS News.

But with the country's jet bridges aging, amid maintenance mistakes and mishaps, sometimes air travel can be hazardous on the ground. 

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