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The Deadly Crash That Changed Airline De-Icing Standards

40th anniversary of the deadly Air Florida flight #90 icing crash is recalled and it’s influence on modern weather airline deice and anti-ice winter operations. ( More...

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I remember this - and a guy called Lenny Skutnik who jumped into the freezing river to help rescue another human being.
DonDengler 13
And Lenny Skutnik. A true hero
patrick baker 11
this particular air florida flight was flown by incomptetent cold weather pilots who completely fumbled the pre-take off tasks and the take-off roll also.
Peter Fuller 6
Among the fumbled pre-flight tasks: flight crew did not turn on engine anti-ice, which caused instruments to show higher thrust than the engines we’re actually producing.
LarryQB 3
Did you mean 'warm weather pilots?'
sparkie624 2
They missed so many warning signs that it is Mind Boggling!
sharon bias 11
I was in SLC early one Sunday morning. First flight of the day for this plane. Pushed back from the gate and the pilot announced, "we're going to do a quick de-icing drive through before we depart". It did take about 15 minutes, but I was still comforted the pilot decided to do this. SLC is used to snowy weather, and they have great facilities since they hosted the Olympics. I always say, better late than dead.
Gosh, I remember this accident vividly as I too was at DCA that day. It really stuck with me that any ice while sometimes not visible could be deadly. Many year after this I was In LHR and it was snowing. We were to fly off to JFK at 1730. The snow was so bad that only 45 of our 186 passengers were on the plane and we were watching to see when we would be de-iced. Our CA said they'd have someone use a broom to get the"stuff" off the wings. I asked if he really thought that was a good idea and wouldn't the glycol spraying be better. He said we'd have to wait for over 2 hours if we wanted to get deiced. I told him that was fine, we only had a few passengers and we'd just take care of them on the ground with drinks and snacks. He said he really didn't want to wait and he was going to just taxi really fast and it should blow the ice off. I reminded him of this very accident and he said its was ok, he'd was in charge of this plane. I was not a happy person. I told him if he chose to leave with the snow visible on the wings I was going to declare an emergence and blow every slide on the plane so we couldn't even taxi. He asked if that was a threat and I told him NO it is a promises.....I remember the 14th ST bridge accident as I was there that day. Thankfully, he backed down and we were deiced 3 hours later and we flew to JFK and landed safely albeit 3 hours late.
Haven Rich 6
Speaking truth to power is admirable! See something, say something. You set a fine example.
Dale Ballok 3
Wow! Good for people like you! Ya, he said he was in charge of the plane, but in reality, just on paper!
The ice outside the plane must have seemed warm compared to the attitude of that captain towards you during the flight to JFK. Apparently he wasn't a student of cockpit resource management.
user3956 2
Well done
DracoVolantis 1
ADXbear 5
We covered this crash in our dispatch licensing course. Dispatchers must be very accurate with weather info at time of pushbacks.. crews today are very much aware of the need to have clean wings and ground crews to physically check the wings after deicing and before heading to runway..
Dom Aguayo 5
I was there on the day of the accident. I was a first officer with Piedmont Airlines and our flight departed a few hours before Air Florida. The snow was falling at a pretty good rate and we were deiced with type one fluid as was the practice back in the day. There was no hold over time (HOT) back then just the discretion of the captain. We did not sit on the ground for very long before we were on our way. When we finally arrive in ATL a couple stops later we heard of the accident in DCA. Less than a week later we were back in Washington and having a few hours to wait between flights I heard that the accident aircraft was in a hangar near the end of the field. I was told I could probably get in to see it if I went over. I got a ride from a ramp agent and being in uniform I managed to get in without much difficulty. How times have changed. While standing behind the ropes that blocked off the wreckage a gentleman wearing a NTSB jacket approached me and ask if I flew a 737. I answered yes and he said to come with him as he wanted to show me something. We entered what was left of the cabin from the rear a few rows just forward of the aft galley. Since the plane had only recently been out of the water I remember seeing pieces of ice still in the over head bins. In the cockpit the forward windows were all intact but shattered and impossible to see through. The pilot’s seats were twisted forward and slightly to the left almost off their tracks. The control wheels were bent almost sideways as if pushed with a tremendous force. The NTSB agent pointed to the overhead panel and put his finger on the engine anti-ice switches. They were both in the off position. He said this is one of the things they were looking at right now. Standing there behind the first offer’s seat I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to watch the water racing towards them and knowing, at that point, there was nothing they could do to stop it. The heartbreak is that if just one of them had firewalled the throttles they might have pulled out of it.
sparkie624 1
Your last sentence said it all... Even if they had blown an engine or 2, they probably would not have hit the river and probably more survivors.... Since he would have shown an Engine Exceedance he would have turned back and everyone would have been delayed, but they would have been delayed and still alive...
Highflyer1950 9
Unfortunately no amount of de-icing/anti-icing is going to save an aircraft from a crew inexperienced in cold weather ops, failure to follow checklist procedures, unable to perform the simplest of duties…such as a crosscheck of engine instruments after thrust is set, inability to realize the aircraft is not accelerating as it should for a full power takeoff and finally upon rotation and then stick shaker activation (at least to most pilots) would push the thrust levers as far forward as possible! Had they done the last, they might have made it back to sunny, warm Florida. We used type 1,2 & 4 de icing fluids long before those fair weather pilots came along.
Gary Justus 4
Not long after the DC Air Florida crash, two hundred and fifty-six people died when a chartered Arrow Air DC-8 full of U.S. servicemen and women crashed almost immediately into a forest after take-off from Gander, New Foundland due to icing at night. To visit the memorial site is sobering. Then there was Continental Airlines Flight 1713 that crashed while taking off in a snowstorm from Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado, on November 15, 1987. Twenty-eight died. The NTSB cited a failure to return for a second deicing as a major cause, in addition to the First Officer over rotating on takeoff, causing an aerodynamic stall. The Pilot might be in command of the aircraft, but the aircraft may not be physically able to fly.
Ross Bowie 4
AF90 crashed due to a combination of surface contamination and inadequate thrust due to false high EPR indications caused by blocked pt2 probes in the engine spinners. The NTSB concluded that continued flight should have been possible had the crew disregarded the false EPR readings and added thrust. A month before the AF90 accident a Sterling 727 bound for Oslo knocked down approach lights at Gander after rotating 5 to 10 kts below VR when the crew saw they were running out of runway. They eventually returned to land with damage to gear doors, flaps, fuselage and engine cowling. The aircraft had been deiced, there was light snow falling but surface contamination was not a factor. I was an investigator at the time, did the flight recorder and performance analysis and wrote the final report. Unfortunately the length of the flight meant no CVR information and the FDR was an old foil type with 6 parameters and it wasn't working properly. When the NTSB recognized that pt2 probe icing was a factor we were able to simulate the effect and show that probe icing was the primary cause of the Sterling accident. At the time Boeing's criteria for use of EAI were unnecessarily detailed (temperature below 8C, visible moisture or wet snow, fog is visible moisture when vis less that 1 mile, snow is wet snow at -1C or above). Strict application of these criteria led the Sterling and AF crews to leave EAI off. At the time, Air Canada had simpler criteria that are likely still used today (temperature below 8C, visible moisture or dewpoint spread less than 3 degrees). During the investigation CALPA surveyed its pilots and we found 17 reports of false EPR readings, mostly when snow was falling, but not Boeing's "wet snow". Of course in both cases checking N1 could have alerted the crew to a problem, but the Sterling manual did not provide the expected N1 readings, and in any case, the tendency is to look for a discrepancy between engine readings.In my view both accidents would have been prevented if the EAI criteria had been more realistic. I asked a Boeing engineer how they came up with their wet snow definition and he said they did some tests in the desert in the 1950s. And, despite the fact that there had been quite a few probe icing instances, nobody thought about adjusting the EAI criteria accordingly.All this despite the very minor performance penalty associated with using EAI.
I flew out of DCA the next night and next to us was the unmarked replacement plane for the one that crashed. Once again, snow was accumulating rapidly. Apparently, it took just one day for reality to set in and we all got out fine.
Joe Keifer 2
I remember crossing the 14th Street bridge on the metro to the Pentagon an hour or so before this disaster happened. I also recall 9/11 and driving past the smoking hole in that same building.
Metro derailed that day too,killing 3 on the Orange line. What a mess.
DonDengler -5
What does one thing have anything to do with thae other. We are talking about ice buildup on airplane wing
Not a terrorist attack.
Joe Keifer 1
RustySimmons 2
I remember that day as I worked at the Pentagon and lived on Ft Meyer not far away. The level of snow was unexpected and they send everyone home early. We waited and waited for our shuttle bus but it never showed. Traffic was obviously a mess, and we could hear sirens and helicopters that we assumed were due to traffic. So we hiked towards the base through the snow. When we got there we found out what had happened. From where we were walking we could have seen the rescue efforts but the snow made visibility less than half a mile or so. One of my friends was on the bridge and helped with rescue efforts. The next day we went by the scene and I'll never forget the tail sticking up out of the water.

That all said, I remember the investigations and results. What a mess. Can't believe it's been 40 years. (I feel old!)
James Simms 1
I posted this article elsewhere. A fellow blogger came back saying he’d lost his Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, & Command Sergeant Major in the incident. Said he was the Duty Officer just going on for his shift/tour/duty, that the phones were going crazy, & the CO’s wife came & stayed for any news……

This was before anyone really gave thought to not having your chain of command flying different flights & probably thought more work could get done on the flight home.
Wouldn't it be prudent to have a go-pro installed on the inside of each aircraft, one overlooking the left wing, and one overlooking the right wing? It would seem especially helpful at night if the camera had infra-red technology to detect ice on the wings? Just an amateur opinion.
sparkie624 1
The 380 has a camera on the tail that the Cockpit can see the full exterior (top) of the A/C.... What is more import than the wings is the Horizontal Stab and Elevator - They can cause loss of control before the wings!
A camera in the tail of all aircraft would even be better if the pilot could zoom in to any area he can't see clearly in the big picture. I agree about the stabilizers and elevator.
Patty Vanoy 1
Not to be flippant, but this gives me chills. The possibilities…
sparkie624 2
Better to get the Chills now, than to have had the Real Chills when it happened!
Larry Toler 1
We actually covered this scenario in one of my recurrent classes between F/A's and pilots. Even though my duties are focused in the cabin, I also followed what's going on with my pilots in the flight deck. Once again, that also goes back to my training in the USAF with situation awareness. It also helps me to give my pax a straight answer of why we are delayed or out right canceled.
Larry Toler 1
Back to the point, an extra set of eyes during preflight can help as well as good Crew Resource Management.
That said, I flew for a regional on ERJ's and it was just me, two pilots, and up to 50 pax depending on which EMB145 we were flying and segment length.
We were cleared to land and could just see the runway when told to go around. The weather was terrible ad we were directed to Dulles (IAD) landing on an ice covered runway. I will never forget that day.
tdrane 1
As a frequent passenger on The DCA-TPA Air Florida route, memory of this accident eased the frustration of being 45th in line for deicing at Houston International. Seems of the two deicing trucks, one was out of service. 6.5 hours after leaving the gate we departed for Reagan.
Jesse Carroll 1
With all the updated CCTV cameras available, put them everywhere on the whole fuselage! Would be nice for pilot to see if gear, flaps or ice is working like it should!

Heck, I have 8 cameras on my pickup and love them!
Add some in the cabin also!
Joe Keifer 1
Sorry if this sounds brutal, but this is not really about ice on the wings because they all knew what the danger were and decided to proceed down the runway. No, this was a choice the flight crew made. Pilot error.
sparkie624 5
True, but the Real issue that caused the crash was ICE on the Sensor Port at the center of the engine hub that caused an engine EPR indication to show higher than it really was and they thought they had the right settings. this was all preventable... Only thing they had to do was to advance the throttles. The ice on the Wings was only 1 symptom, but even with that, they did not have enough power even without the ice....
dee9bee 1
As I recall, the final report (I followed the process for personal reasons) the F/O had his concern about the EPR/N1 discrepancy and that was audible on the CVR. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be done about it until it was too late.
sparkie624 3
You are correct... The FO referenced it, and the Captain said it was ok. I too heard the CVR. The FO was on to it, but that was before cockpit CRM and you never called out the Captain in those days. Also this is just one of those crashes that lead to CRM in the first place.
DonDengler 3
Yes. It was pilot error.
sparkie624 1
Interesting article... But if you notice, they were not doing it correct. You never spray fluid from the back of the wing to the front of the wing.. Any water that is there, is pushed up under the leading edge device and can freeze... Other than that, great article... Side note.. the Reporter said it looked like fun... UGH... from someone who has done it before... It is NOT FUN in any way shape or form!
Peter Fuller 8
Apparently among their many screwups, during taxi the Air Florida crew, rather than going back for proper deicing and anti-icing, instead very closely followed the DC9 in front of them, so the DC9’s hot engine exhaust would melt the snow on their 737’s wings. Apparently this worked, but some of the resulting meltwater and slush trickled down to and refroze on the leading edges of the wings and engine inlets.


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