The Crash Of American Airline Flight 191

The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 was the worst air disaster in US history. It occurred on May 25, 1979 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and resulted in 273 deaths.

On May 25, 1979 an American Airlines DC-10 took off from the Chicago International Airport at O'Hare Field. The plane reached a height of approximately 400 feet before losing its left side engine. The resulting crash killed everyone on board the plane and two persons on the ground. It was, and remains to this day, the worst air disaster in United States history.

American Airlines Flight #191 was scheduled to be a nonstop trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. The plane was filled to near capacity with 271 persons, many of whom were beginning their travels at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. Among those on board that day were Playboy Magazine's managing editor Sheldon Wax, as well as the magazine's fiction editor, Vicki Haider. Wax was accompanied by his wife, author Judith Wax. The flight time was scheduled to be a little over three and one-half hours to Los Angeles International Airport.

At shortly after 3:00 p.m. Central time, the enormous plane was cleared by the O'Hare tower for takeoff. The DC-10 carried a tremendous load of jet fuel. After being given clearance, the plane thundered down the runway and began its ascent. However, almost simultaneous with the takeoff, the port side engine fell from the wing and plummeted to the ground. It skidded to the end of the runway and came to a rest in some dirt.

Without the engine, which severed the hydraulic system when it fell, the plane was in desperate trouble. No more than 400 feet off the ground, it began to roll to the left in a sharp manner. The control tower had quickly radioed the captain of the plane, Walter Lux, asking if he wanted clearance for an attempted return landing. No response was heard from the cockpit. Less than a minute after takeoff, the plane smashed into the ground in a fiery heap about a half mile from the end of the runway. All of the plane's occupants were killed, as were two people on the ground.

The aftermath of the crash was devastating. One Chicago newspaper reported that the flames and smoke from the wreckage were twice the height of the plane at its highest altitude. The devastation was so complete that many firefighters and rescue personnel who were on the scene could not proceed into the wreckage for sizeable amounts of time after the crash. It was simply too hot to withstand.

Airline experts analyzed the crash and determined that the pilot's ability to control the plane was reduced to almost zero when an engine falls off because additional warning systems were also severed in the process. One pilot even said that recovery in this situation is nearly hopeless, especially if the plane's engine happens to fall off at the takeoff stage of the flight.

The various authorities involved, including the National Transportation Safety Board, combed the area and analyzed hundreds of pieces of the wreckage. An official NTSB report, when discussing the cause of the crash, read as follows:

"...contributing to the cause of the accident were the vulnerability of the design of the pylon attach points to maintenance damage; the vulnerability of the design of the leading edge slat system to the damage which produced asymmetry; deficiencies in Federal Aviation Administration surveillance and reporting systems which failed to detect the use of improper maintenance procedures; deficiencies in the practices and communications among operators, the manufacturer, and the FAA which failed to determine or disseminate the particulars regarding previous maintenance damage incidents; and the intolerance of prescribed operational procedures to this unique emergency."

© High Speed Ventures 2011