August 2

This Day in History

Disaster

Aug 2, 1985:

Sudden thunderstorm causes plane crash

On this day in 1985, strong and sudden wind gusts cause a plane crash at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas that kills 135 people. The rapid and unexpected formation of a supercell, an extremely violent form of thunderstorm, led to the tragedy.

Delta Flight 191 left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the afternoon, headed for Dallas, Texas. The passengers aboard the Lockheed L-1011 enjoyed a completely normal flight until they approached the Dallas area. Summer afternoons in central Texas often include thunderstorms and August 2 proved to be a typical day in this respect. Flight 191 moved around a large storm on its original flight path and ended up coming in due south toward runway 17.

The crew of 191 saw lightning north of the airport, but did not abort the landing. As the plane flew into strong headwinds, the pilot slowed the thrust, expecting an updraft to hold the plane's altitude. Instead, there was a sudden downward wind shear, with a blast of wind from the tail. The Lockheed plane is relatively heavy and was not able to thrust quickly in response. The pilot lost control of the plane and it hit the ground 6,000 feet short of the runway.

The plane hit a car, killing the driver, and then skidded into two water tanks. One hundred thirty-five people lost their lives and another 15 suffered serious injury in the crash. The subsequent investigation revealed that the weather had changed drastically in the eight minutes prior to the crash. A fast-growing supercell formation had caused unpredictable winds. The pilots also should have been more prudent, given what they could see of the developing storm as they approached the airport.

Today, improvements in technology help to monitor the progression and location of storms like the one that downed Flight 191.

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