On the afternoon of Friday, May 25, 1979 (Memorial Day weekend), American Airlines Flight 191, a Los Angeles-bound DC-10, began its takeoff roll at 3:02:48 PM CDT from Chicago-O'Hare International airport.
On the morning of that day (5 hours, 51 minutes earlier), at 10:12 AM EDT, Florida carried out the first "execution" in the US since 1967 of a person who had exhausted the appeals process.
During Flight 191's "rotation" (raising the front of the aircraft in takeoff), the engine under the left wing (one of 3 engines on the aircraft), together with the pylon assembly which holds the engine to the wing, and about 1 meter of the leading edge of the wing, separated from the wing and fell to the runway. The aircraft left the runway at 3:03:38, and at 3:03:58 reached an altitude of 99 meters above the ground, as it was rolling slowly to the left. "At 3:04:06, 28 seconds after takeoff, the plane banked 90 degrees to the left, and the nose dropped below the horizon. The wings continued to roll through the vertical and the nose pitched down rapidly to 21 degrees, in spite of full opposite aileron and rudder controls and almost full up elevator being applied."1 At 3:04:09 (31 seconds after takeoff), the aircraft crashed into an open field about 1.4 km from its takeoff point, killing all 271 people aboard, and the wreckage scattered into an adjacent trailer park. The final death toll has been put at 273 or 275, more than any other accidental US domestic air crash.
The cause of the pylon failure was a crack in a flange in that assembly, caused by a maintenance procedure performed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 29 and 30, 1979, in which the engine and pylon were supported by a forklift during an operation in which some of the pylon's attachment connections to the wing were removed, while others were left in place. During this procedure, the forklift's height had to be adjusted, to compensate for its hydraulic leakage. "...the forklift was not powered for a period of time because it ran out of fuel. The postaccident forklift tests showed that, under these conditions, leakage would allow a drift down of 1 inch in 30 minutes. The postaccident flange loading tests showed that a movement of .4 inch or less at the c.g. [center of gravity] would produce a 7-inch fracture of the flange." 2 (Unfortunately, no one noticed the sound of the fracture in this case.)
Flight 191's left wing was pushed down by a stall which resulted when the slats (which extend the wing's leading edge during takeoff, increasing its lift and reducing its stall speed) on the outer part of that wing were pushed back in by wind pressure. This happened after the hydraulic pressure which held the slats out during takeoff was lost as a result of the damage from the pylon separation (DC-10s were later fitted with mechanical locking devices to hold the slats out). "[After the pylon broke off]...the stall warning system, and the slat disagreement warning light systems [which would illuminate if the position of any slat disagreed with the flap/slat lever position] were rendered inoperative...The flightcrew could not see the wings and engines from the cockpit. Because of the loss of the slat disagreement light and the stall warning system, the flightcrew could not have received an electronic warning of either the slat asymmetry or the stall. The loss of the warning systems created a situation which afforded the flightcrew an inadequate opportunity to recognize and prevent the ensuing stall of the aircraft. The flightcrew flew the aircraft in accordance with the prescribed emergency procedure which called for the climbout to be flown at V2 speed. V2 speed was 6 KIAS [knots indicated airspeed] below the stall speed for the left wing. The deceleration to V2 speed caused the aircraft to stall. The start of the left roll was the only warning the pilot had of the onset of the stall." 2 In other words, the pilots followed their training, which was, in the event of the loss of power in an engine near the ground during climbout, to climb at a rate which would keep their airspeed at "V2 speed"; had they, when they noticed the control problem, put the nose down and picked up airspeed, they would probably have regained control; but, due to loss of the warning systems and other circumstances, they didn't recognize the nature of the problem.
(There have since been aircraft near-misses in the US which could easily have broken Flight 191's US death-toll record: for instance, on Sunday, June 28, 1998, a Boeing 747-400 [with 307 people aboard] bound for Sydney, Australia, weighing nearly 205 metric tons and with nearly another 182 metric tons of fuel, after taking off from San Francisco International Airport at 11:39 PM, flew off course to the northwest after losing power in one of its engines, and cleared fog-shrouded 401-meter San Bruno Mountain [topped with radio towers, and with densely populated areas, in this aircraft's path, at the base of steep slopes] by about 30 meters.)
Concerning ultimate causality, we in this world are often left observing strange coincidences, and maybe speculating about subjects relating to religion. But is there a possibility that some dark forces, having helped arrange the killing of a helpless person, were then allowed to proceed with another destructive act?
And might there be some comparison between Flight 191 and America's experiment with the death penalty since 1976? (graph) It has gotten off the ground, and climbed a little way; but the people controlling it are woefully ignorant of what is actually going on with it, and it will end as the disaster it is.
1. Air Disasters (by Marriot, Stewart, and Sharpe), Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1999
2. Aircraft Accident Report (by the National Transportation Safety Board), National Technical Information Service (US Department of Commerce), Dec. 21, 1979, NTISUBE104017