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Special Report: Delta Air Lines Flight 191 
By: Chris Kilroy

Most survivors onboard Delta 191 were in the tail section, which broke away from the rest of the plane before it impacted two 4 million gallon water tanks.
August 2, 1985 is a day Dallas, Texas will never forget. Throughout the afternoon, the weather was typical Texas. Hot temperatures, low humidity, and sunny skies. At 4:03 PM eastern daylight time, Delta Airlines flight 191, a Lockheed L-1011-385-1, lifted off from runway 9L at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Aboard the aircraft today were 167 passengers and crew traveling to Los Angeles with a stop at Dallas/Ft. Worth. As the flight cruised over the vast farmlands of Louisiana, something strange began to happen at Dallas.

In command of Delta 191 was Captain Edward Conners, a 14,000 hour pilot who was highly respected at Delta. Assisting him on the flight deck was First Officer Rudolph Price, hardly a novice, and Second Officer Nick Nassick. Nassick actually re-wrote the technical manual for Delta's L-1011's some two years earlier and he probably knew the inner workings of the airplane more than anyone present.

As the plane approached the beginning of the standard terminal arrival route, Air Traffic Control gave the crew a vector to "turn heading 290 to join the Blue Ridge 010 radial and track inbound." Seeing a thunderstorm cell at that heading, and not being one to trifle with heavy weather, Captain Conners decided to turn to a heading of 255 and turn back to 290 before he got to Blue Ridge... this would give the passengers a much smoother ride.

An artist's depiction, illustrating how a microburst affects an aircraft on approach/departure from an airport.
Meanwhile, off the end of runway 17L at DFW, a huge updraft had begun to form and a thunderstorm was forming with more energy than 100 nuclear reactors. All of this, however, was disguised in the form of puffy, white clouds. At the National Weather Office in Dallas, the aviation meteorologist, George Encinas, decided to break for an early dinner since nothing was on his scope. When he returned he learned that an airliner had crashed at DFW.

Turning onto final approach, flight 191 was at 2,000 feet AGL with the landing gear in motion. The landing checklist was performed without incident. 191 was four miles in trail of a Learjet (N715JF) for the runway, and throughout the entire ordeal, 15JF never reported any abnormal weather phenomenon. Approaching 1500 feet, F. O. Price commented "there's lightning coming out of that one." Captain Conners, surprised, replied "what?" "There's lightning coming out of that one." "Where?" "Right ahead of us." That was the first sign of trouble in the cockpit of Flight 191.

Descending through 800 feet, something very odd began to happen. The plane was speeding up, but no one was touching the throttles. The Vref (landing reference speed) for the airplane's weight was 149 knots, and the plane had accelerated to 173 knots before Price (who was the pilot flying), closed the throttles to slow her down. Captain Conners recognized this as the first signs of windshear, and warned Price: "Watch your speed. You're gonna lose it all of the sudden, there it is." Price advanced the throttles. "Push it up, push it way up. Way up, way up, way up," exclaimed Conners. From the beginning to the end of this sentence, the aircraft's speed dropped from 173 to 133 knots. As Price gave it full power, Conners said "that's it," as the speed began to rise. His voice filled with terror, the Captain then exclaimed "Hang onto the son of a bitch," as the speed dropped to 119.

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To avoid a stall, the pilots pushed the nose over... their vertical speed increased to 1,700 feet per minute and the ground proximity warning system began to sound an alarm. The last words heard in the cockpit were various expletives.

The aircraft landed in a field, bounced in the air, and came down again on Hwy 114, a very busy 6-lane thoroughfare adjacent to the airport. A small Honda was crushed by the no.1 engine, killing the driver, and shutting that engine down. The differential thrust with the failed engine caused the plane to veer left, and it struck two 4 million gallon water tanks at a ground speed of 220 knots.

On that dark day in Dallas, 167 passengers were driven literally into the ground by mother nature. Unfortunately, 136 of them did not live to tell their story.


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