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Sat May 25, 2019, 04:08 PM

Forty years ago today, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed on takeoff

I remember this one.

American Airlines Flight 191



Flight 191 just after takeoff and before hitting the ground, with its left engine missing and leaking hydraulic fluid.

Date: May 25, 1979
Summary: Loss of control caused by engine detachment due to improper maintenance
Site: Des Plaines, Illinois, United States (Near O'Hare International Airport) 42°0′35″N 87°55′45″W
Total fatalities: 273
Aircraft type: McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10

American Airlines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight operated by American Airlines from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California. On May 25, 1979, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 operating this flight was taking off from runway 32R when it crashed into the ground. All 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. With 273 fatalities, it is the deadliest aviation accident to have occurred in the United States.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that as the aircraft was beginning its takeoff rotation, engine number one (the left engine) separated from the left wing, flipping over the top of the wing and landing on the runway. As the engine separated from the aircraft, it severed hydraulic fluid lines that locked the wing's leading-edge slats in place and damaged a 3 feet (1 m) section of the left wing's leading edge. Aerodynamic forces acting on the wing resulted in an uncommanded retraction of the outboard slats. As the aircraft began to climb, the damaged left wing – with no engine – produced far less lift (stalled) than the right wing, with its slats still deployed and its engine providing full takeoff thrust. The disrupted and unbalanced aerodynamics of the aircraft caused it to roll abruptly to the left until it was partially inverted, reaching a bank angle of 112 degrees, before crashing in an open field by a trailer park near the end of the runway. The engine separation was attributed to damage to the pylon structure holding the engine to the wing, caused by improper maintenance procedures used at American Airlines.
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Engine separation
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The NTSB determined that the damage to the left wing engine pylon had occurred during an earlier engine change at the American Airlines aircraft maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, between March 29 and 30, 1979. On those dates, the aircraft had undergone routine service, during which the engine and pylon had been removed from the wing for inspection and maintenance. The removal procedure recommended by McDonnell-Douglas called for the engine to be detached from the pylon before detaching the pylon itself from the wing. However, American Airlines, as well as Continental Airlines and United Airlines, had developed a different procedure that saved approximately 200-man-hours per aircraft and "more importantly from a safety standpoint, it would reduce the number of disconnects (of systems such as hydraulic and fuel lines, electrical cables, and wiring) from 79 to 27." This new procedure involved the removal of the engine and pylon assembly as a single unit, rather than as individual components. United Airlines' implementation involved the use of an overhead crane to support the engine/pylon assembly during removal and installation. The method chosen by American and Continental's procedures supported the engine/pylon assembly with the hold of a large forklift.

It was learned that if the forklift was incorrectly positioned, the engine/pylon assembly would not be stable as it was being handled, causing it to rock like a see-saw and jam the pylon against the wing's attachment points. Forklift operators were guided only by hand and voice signals as they could not directly see the juncture between pylon and wing. Positioning had to be extremely accurate or structural damage could result. Compounding the problem, maintenance work on N110AA did not go smoothly. The mechanics started to disconnect the engine and pylon, but there was a shift change halfway through the job. When work was resumed, the pylon was jammed on the wing and the forklift had to be re-positioned, resulting in unseen structural damage to the wing's pylon attachment points. The structural damage was not enough to cause an immediate failure. However, the damage to the mount developed into fatigue cracking, and worsened with each takeoff and landing cycle during the eight weeks that followed the maintenance on N110AA. Finally, the damaged rear pylon mount was weakened to such an extent that it was no longer able to support even normal flight loads, and failed. Due to the absence of this attachment, at full takeoff power the engine and its pylon fell off the wing. The structure surrounding the forward pylon mount then failed from the resulting stresses.

Inspection of the DC-10 fleets of the three airlines revealed that while United Airlines' hoist approach seemed to be harmless, there were several DC-10s at both American and Continental that already had fatal damage to their pylon mounts. The field service representative from McDonnell-Douglas stated the company would "not encourage this procedure due to the element of risk" and had so advised American Airlines. McDonnell-Douglas, however, "does not have the authority to either approve or disapprove the maintenance procedures of its customers."

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Arrow 18 replies Author Time Post
Reply Forty years ago today, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed on takeoff (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves May 2019 OP
Skittles May 2019 #1
Dennis Donovan May 2019 #2
mahatmakanejeeves May 2019 #3
Dennis Donovan May 2019 #4
mahatmakanejeeves May 2019 #6
Dennis Donovan May 2019 #7
malaise May 2019 #12
murielm99 May 2019 #5
Dennis Donovan May 2019 #8
malaise May 2019 #14
denbot May 2019 #9
Dem2theMax May 2019 #10
BeyondGeography May 2019 #11
Dem2theMax May 2019 #13
malaise May 2019 #15
Dem2theMax May 2019 #16
malaise May 2019 #17
smirkymonkey May 2019 #18

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:13 PM

1. I was in England, trying to get my grandmother to take a flight to America

when that came on the news

just dreadful

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:14 PM

2. Kick and Rec - it's still the highest loss of life of an aircraft accident in the US

https://www.democraticunderground.com/100212129260

Very tragic, and a black eye of the DC-10 (which was a very safe and prolific aircraft).

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #2)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:17 PM

3. Oh, I'm sorry. I hadn't seen your thread.

Here it is:

https://www.democraticunderground.com/100212129260

Thanks for remembering that.

I don't think I can lock this thread. All replies should go there.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Reply #3)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:19 PM

4. No no! Please keep your OP going - I'll kick it

...like now!

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #4)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:21 PM

6. I really appreciate the way you remember

birthdays, dates of death, and anniversaries of famous and/or tragic events.

I think DU should have a forum for those.

Thank you again. I should have known that you had started a thread on this.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Reply #6)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:23 PM

7. We're the DU Historians!

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Reply #6)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:51 PM

12. No need for a special forum

GD folks love history in GD - we lose a lot compartmentalizing everything.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:21 PM

5. There have been many stories

of ghosts seen at the site of the crash. Residents of a nearby trailer park also reported many ghost sightings.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 04:31 PM

8. Kick, a horrible day...

10 yrs later, I worked for AA at GSP in SC. The older men in the crew talked about it. A dark day in AA history.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #8)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:57 PM

14. AA got lucky here in Jamaica almost ten years ago

How that aircraft missed the Caribbean Sea is still the subject of more than a few discussions
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_331
On 22 December 2009, an American Airlines Boeing 737-800, operating American Airlines Flight 331 (Washington, D.C.–Miami–Kingston, Jamaica) and carrying 148 passengers and six crew, overran the runway on landing at Kingston in poor weather. The plane continued on the ground outside the airport perimeter and broke apart on the beach, causing injuries.

Factors contributing to the crash include the speed of the aircraft upon landing and the plane touching down more than 4,000 feet from the start of the runway. Contributing factors included American Airlines' failure to provide training on tailwind landings, and the FAA's failure to implement the NTSB's previous recommendation, following a previous fatal accident involving a tailwind landing attempt, that the FAA require commercial operators to train flight crews on tailwind landings.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:19 PM

9. It happened less than a week after I flew from Norfolk to L.A. via Chicago

I remember later on wondering if I had boarded that very plane on my last leg home on leave from the Navy.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:23 PM

10. I had a friend on that flight. A wonderful, kind man

with the craziest sense of humor in the world. He had married a neighbor after she had gone through a horrible divorce. They were so in love and so happy. And they had only been married a few years when this happened.

It still hurts my heart to think of the horrific pain she went through when she found out that he was on the plane. He was running late that day, and they were pretty sure he would not be able to make the flight. Unfortunately, he did.

I cherish the memories of this man who made me laugh so hard, and who brought love back into the life of someone who was so special to me.

RIP Rodney.

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Response to Dem2theMax (Reply #10)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:42 PM

11. +1 for Rodney

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Response to BeyondGeography (Reply #11)

Sat May 25, 2019, 05:53 PM

13. Thank you.

I wish we could show our memories, instead of just talking about them. Because I have the funniest memory of him.

I was over at their house for dinner one night, and we were having Mexican food. And Rodney had this very hot salsa, but he didn't tell me exactly how hot it was. And he kept encouraging me to go for it. I love spicy food, but I had no idea what was going to happen inside my mouth after I took a bite.

I can still see him sitting in his chair, doubled over with laughter, because my mouth was on fire. I remember he finally went and got a glass of milk for me. But he had to let me suffer for a little bit first. LOL!

He was one of the best, so full of joy, and he should have had a much longer life.

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Response to Dem2theMax (Reply #10)

Sat May 25, 2019, 06:13 PM

15. How sad

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Response to malaise (Reply #15)

Sat May 25, 2019, 06:47 PM

16. It absolutely is, but at the same time I think how lucky I am to have known him.

I can't think of a whole lot of people in life who are always happy, and constantly share laughter and joy with other people. That's who Rodney was. Everyone who knew him was blessed. And that is what I carry with me in my heart.

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Response to Dem2theMax (Reply #16)

Sat May 25, 2019, 06:53 PM

17. I know what you mean

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 08:10 PM

18. I knew someone on that flight as well.

She was the girlfriend of my next door neighbor. A beautiful young woman and so kind. She and her friend were on their way to Disneyworld for a job. Her life was just beginning and was ended in minutes. I remember what an impact it had on me. I could not stop thinking about how horrifying her last moments must have been.

I had always been terrified of planes ever since. Even though I have flied since then, I have done so with terror and have always had to have a sedative or a drink before boarding a plane. I absolutely hate them.

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