The Air Florida Crash Of Flight 90

On January 13, 1982, an Air Florida 737 crashed into the Potomac River after takeoff from Washington DC's National Airport. Only five passengers survived the terrible crash.

In January, 1982, many new commercial airlines were popping up as a result of deregulation in the airline industry. One of these new operations was Air Florida. The airline operated a schedule of flights that focused on the East Coast.

On January 13, 1982, Washinton, DC was hit with a large blizzard of snow. Schools and businesses were closing early, and the roads were constantly packed as travelers attempted to get home before another storm system rolled through the nation's capitol. At National Airport, activity was minimal as the airport had closed for a brief period of time. However, it reopened at noon. Many flights were backed up and dealing with delays.

One of these was Air Florida's flight number 90. The flight was scheduled to depart National Airport at 2:15 pm for a nonstop trip to sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Despite the fact that the plane would not leave on time, the Air Florida personnel had the passengers board the plane, and by 2:45 pm all of them were on board. The captain of the flight, Lawrence Wheaton, had commanded that the de-icing of the plane commence. The control tower informed the flight crew that more delays could be expected. The plane was not given clearance to be pushed from its gate until nearly 3:30 pm. The crew was told that it would have to wait for several other aircraft to depart before it could take off. Flight 90 received news that it could leave the gate. It began to push away, but the push-away vehicle became stuck in some snow and could not assist the 737 any more. In an attempt to expedite things, the Air Florida crew turned on the reverse thrusters in an attempt to push back. When this did not work, a second push-away vehicle was dispatched. With chains on its tires, the vehicle succeeded in pushing the jet away from the gate.

After some delays, the crew of flight 90 slipped into takeoff order behind several other jets. Newspaper reports claim that Captain Wheaton pulled his plane close in behind another plane that was in front of him. He used the hot exhaust from the plane in front of him to melt the snow that had accumulated on the wings of flight 90.

Shortly before takeoff, the crew ran through an operations checklist concerning the plane's systems. Cockpit voice recorder tapes later yielded, despite voluminous disagreement, the fact that the engine de-ice apparatus had not been activated. Approximately one minute before four o'clock Eastern time, Air Florida flight 90 made the turn onto the runway and positioned itself for takeoff.

As Flight 90 was cleared for takeoff, the plane began to rumble down the runway. Shortly after takeoff, Captain Wheaton and his co-pilot noticed that the nose of the plane had pulled up sharply. Nevertheless, the plane would not gain altitude. The aircraft began to stall, and started to plummet toward the earth. It crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, which at the time was packed with homebound commuters.

The plane crushed several cars and killed five people on the bridge before violently splashing into the icy Potomac River and sinking. Subsequent rescue efforts yielded only five survivors from the airplane.

Crash investigations concluded that the crew's failure to use the engine anti-ice mechanism caused large amounts of ice and snow to gather in the engines without being melted. All told, seventy-four persons lost their lives.

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