View Full Version : Broken Wings - History Channel

26th May 2004, 13:36
Thursday, May 27, 2004 the History Channel will air a story on AA flight 191. The website has conflicting information about the time, but it would appear to be either 8 pm or 9:30 pm. :)

The crash of Flight 191
Chicago Tribune 05/25/04
(Copyright 2004 by the Chicago Tribune)

Friday, May 25, 1979. The long Memorial Day weekend beckoned. The sky was luminous, the spring air blessedly warm. O'Hare International Airport teemed with travelers. At 3:02 p.m., air traffic controllers cleared a silver American Airlines DC-10 for takeoff to chase the sun's path. With 258 passengers and a crew of 13, Flight 191 was bound for Los Angeles.

The plane lumbered down runway 32-R. Halfway through the two miles of concrete, the jet nosed upward. As it did, the engine beneath its left wing came loose. It pivoted up and over the front and top of the wing, then slammed to the runway.

The three flight officers, who between them had 46,000 hours of experience, didn't see what had happened. All they knew was that one of their three mighty engines had lost power.

Paradoxically, Flight 191 continued to climb, gasping to perhaps 300 feet. Electrical failure robbed Capt. Walter Lux of his instruments. Co-pilot James Dillard fought to stabilize the craft. But Flight 191--plane and payload totaled 379,000 pounds--lunged out of control, rolling 112 degrees to the left. Its 165-foot wingspan tipped oddly vertical. Its nose pointed 21 degrees down.

In O'Hare's tower, a controller reacted: "Look at this! Look at this!" he burbled. "Equipment--I need equipment! He blew an engine!" Catching his breath, the controller threw a lifeline: "Alright, American 191 heavy--do you want to come back and to what runway?"

Flight 191 ended 4,600 feet beyond the runway, near the Touhy Mobile Home Park in Des Plaines. The plane hit 300 feet from Abe Marmel, 75, who was tending his vegetable garden. "I heard a loud explosion," he told a Tribune reporter. "By the time I looked up, there was a rain of fire falling down on me." Chicago police officer Michael Delany watched from afar: "It went up in flame, swish, just like napalm." Burning debris sprayed for half a mile. All aboard were incinerated, as were two people on the ground. Rev. Ward Morrison, an Elk Grove Village priest who tried to bless bodies strewn about a field, found them too hot to touch. Total death toll: 273.

From the tower, the controller could see why American 191 heavy hadn't answered. The plane's voice recorder, pulled from the blackened wreckage, would establish that during the DC-10's 31-second flight, only one word was uttered audibly in its cockpit: "Damn."

- - -

Flight 191 still ranks as the deadliest accident in U.S. aviation history. The very fact that it occurred, awful as it was, may well be the primary reason it has never been eclipsed.

This Thursday evening, The History Channel will air a new and compelling documentary--"The Crash of Flight 191"--that reconstructs the disaster, the loss and the ferocious blame game that followed.

Chicagoans will revisit haunting scenes from television footage of that day--firefighters trudging across scorched earth, small flags marking locations of body parts, black smoke rising from the plane's skeletal fuselage.

Extraordinary detective work debunked initial theories about the disaster and eventually pinpointed its true cause. The lessons of Flight 191 were so crucial, so unexpected, that to this day they help make aviation safer. From that tragedy came important reforms.

- - -

Federal investigators quickly ruled out terrorism, weather, interference from other planes, and the most common factor in air disasters: pilot error. They suspected the culprit was the aircraft itself. Flight 191 was the fourth fatal DC-10 crash since the plane's introduction in 1971. Here there were two damning clues: a broken bolt and a fractured flange, both from the pylon, or mount, that had connected the rogue engine to the wing. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all airlines to inspect similar parts in the 138 DC-10s flown by U.S. carriers.

Within days, two United mechanics, Larry Schluter and Ernie Gigliotti, found metal dust on an engine mount of a United DC-10. "We removed the access panels and found cracks so big you could trip over them," Gigliotti told a reporter. "Rivets were broken, fasteners were sheared. It gives you a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach to see the extent of that damage." The FAA then grounded all DC-10s, tossing air travel into chaos for 36 days. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader condemned the McDonnell Douglas jumbo jet as the winged equivalent of the accident-prone Chevrolet Corvair.

Michael Marx, a metallurgist for the National Transportation Safety Board, sensed a rush to judgment. The documentary details his suspenseful autopsy of Flight 191. The fault lay not with the DC-10, but with a maintenance procedure used by American and other airlines. Rather than first removing the engine and then the pylon from the wing, as McDonnell Douglas suggested, mechanics at American's maintenance hub in Tulsa had, to save time, removed and reinstalled the engine and pylon as a single unit. That led to a crack inside the pylon. Two months of subsequent flights stressed the fracture until, on May 25, the pylon disintegrated.

The NTSB's final report cited that procedure, as well as a vulnerability in the DC-10's hydraulic system, as precursors of Flight 191's fatal nosedive.

American paid a fine and recovered. McDonnell Douglas never fully did, and eventually was folded into one of its rivals, Boeing. Survivors of the victims live with the pain to this day. As a widow says in the documentary: "It never hurts less. It just hurts less often."

- - -

The crash of Flight 191 taught the aviation industry that as aircraft grew more complex, maintenance procedures demanded as much scrutiny as engineering design or pilot training.

Twenty-five years later, it's impossible to say how many other disasters have been averted because the industry took that lesson to heart.

At the close of the documentary, its co-executive producer, investigative journalist Peter Greenberg, sums up its theme: The most important story in an air tragedy is the why. "It's not that a plane crashes," he says. "These things do happen--thankfully not that often. But why did it happen, and what do we learn from that, and how do we apply those lessons?"

Flight 191 carried 271 men, women and children to premature deaths. How many deaths it has prevented is a surely chilling number that none of us who fly in airliners can ever know.

Lu Zuckerman
26th May 2004, 15:16

Here is what I heard that happened: Under normal conditions when an engine is removed an/or installed on the wing the engine is mounted on an installation / removal dolly. The dolly has various mechanical controls that allow precision positioning of the engine in relation to the pylon.

In order to expedite the installation the mechanics raised the engine into position using a forklift.
Since the forklift lacked precision positioning capabilities the engine struck a diaphragm on the pylon causing it to crack. This element although fragile by itself it provides a great deal of structural integrity to the pylon assembly. With the damaged diaphragm the pylons structural integrity was severely compromised leading to itsí failure under high thrust levels.

:E :E