Skip to main content
Year
1979
Month Day
May 25

American Airlines plane crashes in Chicago, killing all aboard

Almost 300 people are killed on May 25, 1979 when an American Airlines flight crashes and explodes after losing one engine just after takeoff.

It was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend in 1979 when 277 passengers filled Flight 191 from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport bound for Los Angeles. The DC-10 jet took off normally but after rising to only 400 feet, stalled and then rolled to the left. The plane quickly plunged, crashing into Ravenswood Airport, which had been abandoned and was no longer in use.

The plane, loaded with fuel, exploded on impact, killing all 277 people on board instantly. The heat from the fire was so intense that firefighters could not approach the crash for close to an hour. The crash also caused a fire at a nearby mobile-home park and killed two bystanders on the ground. A Standard Oil gas storage facility was also nearly hit.

Following this crash, all DC-10s in the United States were impounded and grounded by judicial order because there was no immediate determination as to the cause of the crash and it was feared that it could have been caused by a problem common to the jet type. Ultimately, it was found that the left pylon, which supported the turbofan engine, came loose and took out the hydraulic lines. The left wing slats then retracted and the plane could not lift off properly. The American Airlines maintenance crew was found to be at fault—they had failed to follow the proper procedures when removing the engine and pylon during repairs and maintenance.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Black History Milestones: George Floyd Protests

George Floyd is killed by a police officer, igniting historic protests

On the evening of May 25, 2020, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kills George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes. The death, recorded by bystanders, touched off what may have been the largest protest movement in U.S. history and a ...read more

Etan Patz

6-year-old Etan Patz—boy on milk carton—goes missing

On the morning of May 25, 1979, six-year-old Etan Patz walked the two blocks from his home to his bus stop in Manhattan. It was his first time walking there alone before school, and the last day his parents would ever see him. That’s because someone abducted Etan during that ...read more

The English Restoration begins

Under invitation by leaders of the English Commonwealth, Charles II, the exiled king of England, lands at Dover, England, to assume the throne and end 11 years of military rule. Prince of Wales at the time of the English Civil War, Charles fled to France after Oliver Cromwell’s ...read more

Constitutional Convention begins

Four years after the United States won its independence from England, 55 state delegates, including George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, convene in Philadelphia to compose a new U.S. constitution. The Articles of Confederation, ratified several months before ...read more

Pennsylvania man buried with his beloved Corvette

On May 25, 1994, the ashes of 71-year-old George Swanson are buried (according to Swanson’s request) in the driver’s seat of his 1984 white Corvette in Irwin, Pennsylvania. Swanson, a beer distributor and former U.S. Army sergeant during World War II, died the previous March 31 ...read more

"Star Wars" opens in theaters

On May 25, 1977, Memorial Day weekend opens with an intergalactic bang as the first of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars movies hits American theaters. The incredible success of Star Wars–it received seven Oscars, and earned $461 million in U.S. ticket sales and a gross of ...read more

Babe Ruth hits last home run

On May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Babe Ruth hits his 714th home run, a record for career home runs that would stand for almost 40 years. This was one of Ruth’s last games, and the last home run of his career. Ruth went four for four on the day, hitting ...read more

JFK asks Congress to support the space program

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announces to Congress his goal of sending an American to the moon by the end of the decade and asks for financial support of an accelerated space program. He made the task a national priority and a mission in which all Americans would ...read more

Grizzly bear is classified as a “threatened” species

In 1975, the grizzly bear–once the undisputed king of the western wilderness–is given federal protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Before the Anglo-Americans began invading their territory, the grizzly bear inhabited most of the country west of the ...read more

President Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War

John Merryman, a state legislator from Maryland, is arrested for attempting to hinder Union troops from moving from Baltimore to Washington during the Civil War and is held at Fort McHenry by Union military officials. His attorney immediately sought a writ of habeas corpus so ...read more

Oscar Wilde is sent to prison for indecency

Writer Oscar Wilde is sent to prison after being convicted of sodomy. The famed writer of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest brought attention to his private life in a feud with Sir John Sholto Douglas, whose son was intimately involved with Wilde. Homosexuality was ...read more

Chinese government removes ban on Shakespeare

A new sign of political liberalization appears in China, when the communist government lifts its decade-old ban on the writings of William Shakespeare. The action by the Chinese government was additional evidence that the Cultural Revolution was over. READ MORE: China: A Timeline ...read more