Delta Air Lines
- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Boston Logan International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, New York JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Year Founded:
- Sky Team
- Ed Bastian
- United States
On August 2, 1985, Delta Air Lines flight 191 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight between Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with a stop at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).
Delta Flight 191 was a scheduled flight between Florida and California with a stop in Texas. Image. GCmaps
The aircraft involved in the incident was a six-year-old Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 1 registered N726DA. At the time of the accident, the plane had completed 20,555 flight hours with 11,186 takeoffs and landings.
The flight crew of Delta Air Lines Flight 191
The crew on the ill-fated flight consisted of three flight crew, including 57-year-old captain Edward N. (Ted) Connors Jr, who had qualified on the TriStar in 1979. In NTSB, interviews with people who had flown with Connors in the past described him as a meticulous pilot who strictly adhered to company policies. During his time with Delta Air Lines, Connors had logged 29,300 hours of flight time, which included 3,000 hours on the TriStar.
The flight had 163 passengers and 11 crew. Photo: Getty Images.
The first officer on the flight was 42-year-old Rudolph P. (Rudy) Price Jr., who was described by captains he had flown with as being an “above average first officer” with an “excellent knowledge” of the TriStar. At the time of the accident, Price had 6,500 flight hours, 1,200 of which were in the TriStar.
The flight engineer, 43-year-old Nicholas N. (Nick) Nassick, had logged 6,500 hours of flight time, including 4,500 in the TriStar. His fellow Delta employees described him as “observant, alert, and professional.”
Connors and Price were Navy veterans, with Connors serving during the Korean War and Price doing four tours in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Nassick had been in the United States Air Force for 13 years and served during the Vietnam War. All three cockpit crew were based at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
The crew were told to expect bad weather
Before taking off at 14:10, the pilots had read a weather report for DFW that said to expect “widely scattered showers and thunderstorms.” Another dispatch weather report spoke of an area of isolated thunderstorms over Oklahoma and northern Texas.
The aircraft diverted to avoid a storm close to New Orleans. Photo: Getty Images.
As the aircraft passed close to New Orleans, Louisiana, a weather system over the Gulf of Mexico was strengthening. To avoid the weather, the crew decided to divert for a more northern approach into DFW.
At 17:35, the crew received an Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) broadcast for weather on approaching DFW. Air Traffic Control (ATC) then instructed the flight to descend to 25,000 feet. to 10,000 feet towards the Blue Ridge approach into DFW.
Connors told the controller that the suggested approach would take them through a storm cell and that he would prefer to avoid it. Following a brief exchange between the captain and ATC, the flight was cleared for a different approach. saying it “looks like it’s raining over Fort Worth.”
The plane was to land using an ILS approach
At 17:51, the Fort Worth ARTCC controller transferred the flight to DFW Airport Approach Control, which cleared the flight to descend to 7,000 feet. A couple of minutes later, the controller asked the Delta flight to deviate by ten degrees and to slow their airspeed to 180 knots.
The crew acknowledged the instruction as the plane began its final approach into DFW. At 17:56, the flight was cleared to descend to 5,000 feet with the controller saying that it was raining north of the airport and that they would be landing using an instrument. Landing system (ILS) approach.
When speaking about the rain, first officer Price then said, “We’re going to get our airplane washed.” Around the same time Price talked about the rain, Connors switched to the arrival radio frequency and informed the approach controller that they were flying at 5,000 feet.
The flight was cleared to land on Runway 17L
After clearing the flight to land on Runway 17L (now Runway 17C), the controller spoke with an American Airlines flight on the same approach, two planes ahead of flight 191, asking if they could see the airport. “As soon as we break out of this rain shower, we will.”
Flight 191 was told to descend to 3,000 feet and to slow down to a speed of 170 knots on a heading of 270°. Half a minute later, the approach controller told them to reduce their speed to 160 knots which the crew acknowledged.
At 18:03, the controller said, “we are getting some variable winds due to the storm.” Three miles ahead of flight 191 was a Learjet 25 on the same approach to Runway 17L. As the Learjet flew through the storm, it encountered turbulence and a loss of visibility but was able to continue its ILS approach and land safely. landed and before visibly seeing the incoming Delta TriStar, the controller saw lightning from the storm cell.
At 18:03, flight 191 was told to reduce speed further to 150 knots before handing the flight to the controller in the tower. 12 seconds later, Connor radioed the tower to say, “Tower Delta one ninety-one heavy, out here in the rain, feels good.”
The controller advised the plane that the wind was blowing at five knots with gusts up to 15 knots. The crew acknowledged and lowered the landing gear and extended the flaps for landing. At 18:04, Price said, “Lightning coming out of that one. … Right ahead of us.”
Wind shear can occur near storm fronts. Photo: Getty Images
Now at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the captain told Price to monitor his airspeed as the cockpit voice recorder captured what sounded like rain hitting the aircraft. “You’re gonna lose it all of a sudden, there it is.” he then told price to “Push it up, push it way up.” The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) then captured the sound of revving engines and Connor saying, “That’s it.” Connors can then be heard saying, “Hang on to the son of a bitch!” From this point, the aircraft suddenly began to sink below the glide path at more than 50 feet per second, setting off the ground proximity warning system (GPWS).
Connors told first officer to go around
Connors can then be heard saying “TOGA,” aviation shorthand for the order to apply maximum thrust and abort a landing by going around. Price responded by pulling up on the nose, but it failed to stop the aircraft’s descent. Seconds later, the landing gear made contact with the ground in a plowed field 6,336 feet short of the runway and rolled at high speed across the farmland as it approached Texas State Highway 114.
The flight path in the final moments with number 4 where the plane hit the Toyota. Image: NTSB.
The aircraft then struck a light pole and a Toyota Celica, killing the driver immediately. While still moving, the plane hit more light poles before crashing into two water tanks. Now on fire, the aircraft came to rest on its left side before wind gusts blew it upright.
Fire and rescue responded quickly
All airport fire and rescue teams were dispatched and, despite the high gusts of wind, had the fire under control within ten minutes of responding, thanks in part to the heavy rain.
A diagram of who died and who survived the crash. Image: NTSB
Of the passengers and crew, eight crew members and 134 passengers died. Most survivors were sitting in the rear economy smoking section, which had separated from the fuselage after hitting the water tanks.
Pilot error was to blame for the crash
Following a lengthy investigation into the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that pilot error was to blame, saying according to the website Aviation Saftey Network:
“The flight crew’s decision to initiate and continue the approach into a cumulonimbus cloud which they observed to contain visible lightning; the lack of specific guidelines, procedures, and training for avoiding and escaping from low-level wind shear; and the lack of definitive, real-time wind shear hazard information. This resulted in the aircraft’s encounter at low altitude with a microburst-induced, severe wind shear from a rapidly developing thunderstorm located on the final approach course.”
The tail section of the plane following the crash. Photo: NTSB
If you want to read more about microbursts, click on the link to Mohamed Anas Mazz’s article about what causes them.