On August 2, 1985, the Lockheed L-1011 airplane with 152 passengers on board crashed at Fort Worth International Airport, resulting in 137 people being killed during the impact. 26 passengers have managed to survive, with two of them dying later due to injuries. It was the third large accident in the US in 10 years that have taken lives of more than a hundred people. The cause of this accident was a weather phenomenon that was not fully understood during that time – a microburst.
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The day the accident occurred was pretty standard for the last month of summer – very hot and moisty, conditions that are very well suited for a thunderstorm. When the plane was reaching Dallas, a shower started to develop near the airport. Later on, the shower was getting stronger, and the captain of the plane noticed lightning in the cloud before him. However, the captain decided to proceed as the weather report still fit the restrictions for landing. A few moments later, the plane got caught in a thunderstorm. It was first accelerated because of being struck by strong winds; then, the plane began to lose speed and altitude. At that moment, the only thing the pilots could do to prevent a crash was to maximize the power in throttles. Unfortunately, it was too late; the plane crushed into a car on State Highway 144, killing the driver in the process. After that, the plane slammed into two water tanks and almost completely got engulfed by fire.
Delta Flight 191 was not the first case of a plane crush caused by wind shears. However, the problem was overlooked by airline officials, as no specific training in microburst avoidance was provided to pilots. Having learned from this terrible mistake, the officials have provided all susceptible airports with various radars and alert systems, as well reconsidered the training process of pilots in order to avoid further accidents caused by microbursts.
Factors Contributing to the Accident
The main cause of the Delta Air Lines Flight 191 airplane crash was a microburst, a downburst that was not quite understood at that time, but, still, was regarded as one of the main reasons for airplane accidents because of the wind shears that come along with it.
On August 2, 1985, the weather was extremely hot and moisty, providing perfect conditions for a possible thunderstorm. When the plane was reaching Dallas, a shower began to intensify near the airport. A few moments later, the plane encountered a heavy thunderstorm, receiving a couple a hits from strong winds from behind. Subsequently, the plane lost speed and altitude, resulting in a crash.
Based on various reports, it appears that the crew of the plane was also partially responsible for the accident. It was not a good decision by them to approach the cloud despite noticing the lightning around it. Also, the members of the crew lacked knowledge and training to deal with microbursts.
The strange part was that there was no training program related to dealing with microbursts before the Delta Air Lines Flight 191 accident, despite the fact that this was not the first crash caused by wind shears. Furthermore, another possible reason that contributed to the airplane crash was the lack of real-time wind shear hazard information.
Although there was a fault of disregarding the viewable lightning in the approaching cloud, the crew cannot be blamed for the fact they did not have the training required to deal with microbursts. Aviation officials were aware of the existent problem and the previous crashes caused by wind shears, but, strangely, did not implement the necessary training programs or technologies prior to this accident. Nevertheless, the crew did the only thing they could to save the jet – pushing the throttles to maximum power.
Outcomes of the Accident and Lessons Learned
Despite their efforts, it was far too late. The plane lost control and slammed into a vehicle on Highway 114, then collided with two water towers, and, as a result, the fire spread all over the plane. This hard-learned lesson that costed lives of 137 people made airline officials to reconsider the views on the matter of microbursts. After a couple of years, Terminal Doppler Weather Radar units have been installed in airports that were susceptible to microbursts in the US and Puerto Rico. NASA has also provided pilots with a technology capable of detecting wind shears during the flight. Also, numerous wind shear alert systems have been introduced to provide a better notification of dangerous air flows.
A better communication between meteorologists and pilots was also required after the Delta Flight 191 accident. Naturally, the training of pilots also required a reconsideration. It was concluded that the pilot training at the time of the accident was flawed, as it tried to teach pilots to cope with wind shears instead of avoid them. The changes to the training program involved the inclusion of flight training and microburst escape maneuvers. Training simulators were specifically designed to teach pilots to quickly recognize the upcoming danger of microbursts, and, subsequently, to efficiently use the airplane’s capability in order to escape them. These measures helped to vastly improve the ability to detect wind shears and react to them as quickly as possible. However, due to the hazardous nature of microbursts, Delta Flight 191 would not be the last one to fall because of them.