Tom Haines

Hard lessons learned 25 years later

August 4, 2010 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

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.

5 Responses to “Hard lessons learned 25 years later”

  1. Amlan Gupta Says:

    Hi Tom,

    I thought that the plane was a L-1011, not a DC-10?



  2. Tom Haines Says:

    You’re right Amlan. It was an L-1011. Now fixed in the blog. Thanks for reading.

  3. Larry Tarr Says:

    Yeah, a DC-10 departing from O’Hare in 1979 was that “other” famous accident. The left engine of American Airlines Flight 191 separated from its wing and ripped apart the hydraulics connected to the control surfaces. The left wing stalled and the plane spun to the ground. Everyone on the airliner died (271 people) and there were a couple of ground fatalities.

    I remember the FAA grounding all DC-10’s until they were modified to prevent similar accidents. For several years afterward, the name “DC-10″ became a dirty word among the traveling public and many were fearful of booking flights on this aircraft.

  4. J Ritchie Says:

    Wow; has it really been 25 years?

    Before this accident, in the aviation world we heard very little talk about low-level wind shear; it was one of those things you simply “looked out for”. Since that time, LLWS detection equipment has become standard at many larger airports.

    Incidentally, one of the victims, Don Estridge, was the leader behind the design team of a device almost all of us use daily; the personal computer.

  5. W McGowan Says:

    What have we learned? I’m a 20yr 767 pilot w a major airline, and we are still making approaches into windshear exactly because we feel bulletproof w windshear warnings and because “the guy ahead got in”.
    We are required to maintain 20 miles from cells in cruise flight, (yeah, right!) but there is no guidance for distance in the terminal area as long as there is no cell “on final”.
    Airlines have had countless near misses and saves due to weather that go unreported, all because “we have to get in”. Is any one arrival worth that risk?

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