August 2, 2010, was the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most influential aircraft accidents of all time. The 1985 accident occurred when I was a newspaper reporter. But a few months later I was in my first job in aviation journalism, reporting for an aviation magazine and the accident investigation was fodder for many articles.
Looking back today, it’s hard to imagine an airliner sucumbing to windshear the wayDelta Flight 191 did that stormy day as it approached Dallas-Fort Worth. The Lockheed L-1011plowed through a thunderstorm at the edge of the airport headed for a landing. Instead, the airplane flew into windshear and crashed short of the runway, hitting a car on a highway and plowing through fences before breaking apart and burning. 135 people died. Dallas television station WFAA did a reflective piece on the anniversary and includes video and stills from the accident.
Of course, part of the reason it’s so unimaginable that an airplane would crash from wind shear is because of all that was learned from the 191 crash. Scientists investigating the crash “discovered” wind shear and as a result, airliners were required to be equipped with wind shear detection systems. Dozens of airports now have low-level wind shear detection systems and Doppler radar has been tuned to pick up the nuances in the atmosphere that suggest wind shear. Who knows how many accidents have been prevented because of what was learned from this one landmark accident.
For more on wind shear and its affect on aircraft, see“WxWatch: Shear Threats” from the September 1997 issue of AOPA Pilot.