Flying in a jetliner is extraordinarily safe: There has been only one fatal crash in the United States in the past five years, an astounding record considering that more than 30,000 flights take off every day.
How did flying get so reliable? In part, because of accidents that triggered crucial safety improvements. Here are one of eight crashes and two emergency landings whose influence is felt “for the good” each time you step on a plane.
Ep.2 – PORTLAND | United Airlines Flight 173
United Flight 173, a DC-8 approaching Portland, Ore., with 181 passengers, circled near the airport for an hour as the crew tried in vain to sort out a landing gear problem.
Although gently warned of the rapidly diminishing fuel supply by the flight engineer on board, the captain – later described by one investigator as “an arrogant S.O.B.” – waited too long to begin his final approach. The DC-8 ran out of fuel and crashed in a suburb, killing 10.
In response, United revamped its cockpit training procedures around the then-new concept of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM). Abandoning the traditional “the captain is god” airline hierarchy, CRM emphasized teamwork and communication among the crew, and has since become the industry standard. “It’s really paid off,” says United captain Al Haynes, who in 1989 remarkably managed to crash-land a crippled DC-10 at Sioux City, Iowa, by varying engine thrust. “Without [CRM training], it’s a cinch we wouldn’t have made it.”