Many people possess a fear of flying, due partially to lack of control and partially because of the horrific accidents that have claimed so many people’s lives. Truth be told, there is a much greater chance of someone dying in a car accident than in a plane, but there is a certain comfort in being in control. When plane accidents occur, fatality is highly probable for many reasons. However, with every tragic accident, it seems like there are new aviation rules and regulations put into effect to keep history from repeating itself. This accident has made the FAA and other agency recognize the potential problems to address and to keep the same accidents from happening again.
On May 25, 1979 American Airlines flight 191 left Chicago’s O Hare airport, Las Angeles bound. The plane was carrying 258 passengers and 13 crew members. Shortly after its take off from Chicago O’Hare Airport, it crashed into an open field, killing all 271 passengers aboard, along with two grounds crew members. There was a big explosion of fire upon impact of the plane. This flight made history as the worst plane accident on United States soil.
With the magnitude of the crash, every aspect of this flight was analyzed, including potential errors made by crew that resulted in the fatalities. The flight crew, fifty-three year old Walter Lux was probably one of the most experienced DC-10 pilot that American Airlines had. He has logged approximately 3000 hours of flight for that particular aircraft. The flight engineer, fifty-six year old Alfred Udovich and forty-nine year old first officer James Dillard also were well experienced in flying the DC-10. There was no call for further investigation into necessary policies and procedure review of the flight crew.
The weather was clear when flight 191 began take off. Shortly after it took off, the number one engine and pylon began to detach from the plane. This ripped away nine foot section on the plane. Both the separated pylon and engine fell to the ground, landing on the runway. The bystanders reported that the plane only reached approximately 300 feet into the air. The plane was leaking fuel and hydraulic fluid, creating a white vapor trail behind it. The control tower failed to inform the pilots of flight 191 that the engine had separated from the plane. The crew was operating under the assumption that it was still attached, the engine had just failed. Their reactions and means of recovery were based on success from failed engines, not detached ones.
The pilots did everything they could to recover from the defective plane. Their valiant efforts failed as the plane plummeted nose first, into a field at the end of the runway. It was fatal for the entire flight. The local firemen had reported they could not find a body in tacked, the impact was so intense. Upon examining the remains of the crash, the NTSB determined improper maintenance and the design of the DC-10 itself were the major contributing factors to the accident.
This crash did draw a lot of publicity to aviation in general, specifically the DC-10. Flight 191 was the fourth accident with the D-10 and the total death count was 662 fatalities. Elwood T. Driver, vice-chairman at the time of the National Transportation Safety Board was photographed holding a broken bolt. It was like he was insinuating the cause of the accidents was the bolts. Even though it was determined there was more to it, this was the point when the entire structure of this plane came under scrutiny.
Flight 191 was powered by three engines, General Electric CF6-6D. American Airlines maintenance records and flight logs had no record of mechanical discrepancies on May 24, 1979. But they cannot tell if on the day of the accident there were any records of potential mechanical issues, because they did not remember to remove the log from the plane. This is standard procedure, and a procedure that had to be enforced more strictly after this event.
Up until this point, maintenance was not regulated in the capacity that it is now days. The design of the D-10’s pylon and its adjacent service was difficult to service, and more likely to be damaged by the maintenance crews. Airlines used one of two means to service these aircrafts. One, being an overhead hoist and the other way was a fork lift. After this accident NTSB investigate the D-10 more thoroughly and reviewed records determining that every instance that damage was sustained or cracks found was when maintenance was done with a forklift. As American airlines found out, if the forklift was placed in the wrong position, they engine would rock jamming it against the pylon attachment spots.
NTSB found out that flight 191’s maintenance showed just about every loop hole in their policies and procedures that were currently in place. Engineers had begun to disconnect the jammed pylon and engine, but stopped half way through because their shift had ended. There was no communication for the work prior so the next shift continued on, not giving the proper maintenance needed. There was a small crack that had gone unnoticed servicing several flights till it had reached a breaking point that occurred during flight 191’s take off. This was the point that NTSB, FAA, and the United States government realized that this terrible tragedy could have been avoided if they had a better maintenance record and follow up in place.