The worst airline disaster on American soil took place in May 1979 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. American Airlines Flight 191 was a three-engined McDonnell Douglas DC-10 jet bound for Los Angeles, taking off at around 15:05 with over 270 people aboard. The weather was clear and a brisk northeasterly breeze was blowing. As the airliner hurtled down the runway everything seemed normal – until a horrified air traffic controller saw the left-hand engine separate, flip back over the wing and crash to the runway.
The experienced pilots – Captain Walter Lux and First Officer James Dillard – knew it was too late to abort the take-off but immediately attempted the correct procedure for climbing on two engines. But the departing power plant had severed hydraulic lines that controlled leading-edge slats designed to lower a wing’s stall speed, ripped a section from the front of the wing and disabled instruments that would have informed Lux of the precise situation. Hydraulic fluid drained away, wing slats retracted and the unbalanced DC-10 cartwheeled to the left and slammed into a hangar on the old Ravenswood Airport site after being aloft for just 31 seconds. The impact and fire killed all aboard the plane and two workers on the ground, and showered a nearby trailer park with burning debris.
The engine separation that caused the crash was a result of poor maintenance by American Airlines, whose team had damaged the mounting pylon during an engine change two months earlier. But there had been an earlier fatal accident involving a Turkish Airlines DC-10 in Paris and two more DC-10 crashes followed swiftly – Western Airlines Flight 2605 in Mexico City and Air New Zealand Flight 901 in Antarctica. With over 650 lives lost, all DC-10s were grounded until minor design faults were rectified and maintenance procedures tightened up.
When was the Flight 191 Crash: May 25 1979
Where was the Flight 191 Crash: Chicago, Illinois, USA
What was the Flight 191 Crash death toll: There were 273 fatalities (258 passengers, 13 crew, two on the ground).
You should know: The crash was used to explain the sudden disappearance of one Diana Chorba. She was murdered around the time of Flight 191’s crash and her daughter was told she had been aboard to avert suspicion. Her killer was finally convicted in 2001.