Security questions abound on how a plane was stolen from Sea-Tac airport

By Bruce A. Smith

Serious security questions have arisen in the wake of a commercial airliner being stolen from Sea-Tac on Friday evening, August 10. Richard Russell, a “ground services employee” of Horizon Air,  entered the cockpit of a twin-engine aircraft, called a Bombardier Q400, at approximately 7:30 pm and flew around south Puget Sound until 8:45 pm when he crashed into Ketron Island, about 30 miles southwest of Sea-Tac airport.

Chief among the questions are: how did he manage to steal the airplane, and how was he able to perform aerial stunts for nearly 75 minutes?

Russell’s exploits were video recorded by hundreds of people on the ground, including some here in Eatonville, and many marveled at his barrel rolls and aerial stunts. So, how did “Beebo,” as he was known to family and friends, learn to perform all those maneuvers?

Horizon Air officials and law enforcement spokespeople are claiming that Russell had no pilot’s license. Nor was he trained by Horizon to fly, although airline officials acknowledged on Sunday that Russell was authorized to assist in the towing and positioning of aircraft.

More fundamental is the question of how anyone can steal an airplane, especially at a busy airport – and from a secured area that requires all employees to have background checks and security clearances?

What is known about Russell’s capacities in the cockpit of the Q400 are not fully known. But, even more troubling is the lack of full transparency from officials and the media on what Russell knew and how he actually got his Q400 in the air.

On Friday night I caught some very interesting news from KIRO-TV’s (CBS) “Live” rebroadcast at 1am that has not been repeated fully. That lack of information diminishes public trust in the authorities, and muddies our understanding of the Russell caper.

To begin, media described Russell initially as a “mechanic” but then changed it to “ground services employee,” which is misleading. Typically, ground services employees are baggage handlers, and Russell certainly performed some of those duties as he posted on Facebook that he had lifted a lot of luggage in his job. But he also had other responsibilities, and one of them apparently put him in the cockpit of a Q400. One TV station reporter from KIRO did describe at 1am how airport staffers where giving him a detailed understanding at how it all happened; essentially:

The guy who stole the plane was part of a Tow Team, a two-member unit who operate the ‘pushback tractors’ that tug airplanes into position at the gates. In Russell’s particular tow team, which was a specialized unit for Horizon’s two-engine prop planes like the Q400, one guy drives the tractor and the other guy is in the cockpit steering the plane. Presumably the plane guy also turns on the lights, electrical systems and such. The tugs shuttle these “commuter planes” from the small, on-the-tarmac passenger gates, and return them to hangars or maintenance yards.

Some of this information is now reported, with numerous outlets stating that Russell jumped into a tractor-plane combination parked outside a Horizon Air hangar, turned the pair 180 degrees, and decoupled the plane.

But the underlying security questions remain unanswered.

Without being detected, apparently, Russell turned on both engines and taxied to the main runways on a cargo-only approach taxiway, according to KIRO’s Friday broadcast. This action confused all the pilots in the queue for take-off, and confounded the Air Traffic Controllers in the tower. Before anyone realized what was happening, Russell cut into the queue, sped up to take-off speed, and got airborne.

Russell was fully credentialed and had appropriate security clearances for all of his normal Horizon duties. Plus, media are reporting that co-workers and friends are claiming Russell was a nice guy, church-going, and married. His Facebook postings show a man curious and knowledgeable, well-traveled and intelligent, and his conversations with FAA personnel during his airborne jaunt reveal a fellow comfortable with flying an aircraft.

Therefore, adding to the huge security question of how Russell was able to steal a plane undetected – and the obvious lack of any response to thwart him – where and how did Russell learn to do all those barrel rolls? In his airborne transmissions he laughs about his “video game playing,” but was he alluding to Internet simulations? Was Russell a self-taught pilot and learned to fly a Q400 via flight simulation software? There are many programs that can do just that, and they are surprisingly inexpensive, with basic simulations packages range from $40-150.

But where did Russell develop the confidence and brazen boldness to jump Sea-Tac’s take-off queue, get in the air successfully, do barrel rolls, and zoom all over our skies – all the while having extended conversations with FAA at Seattle Center and possibly the F-15 pilots? Clearly, more than a good simulation program is at work here.

I asked a flight simulation expert, a fellow DB Cooper sleuth named Dave Shutter who has a simulation program that he uses to sim-fly a 727, the type of plane DB Cooper rode on his getaway flight in 1971.

Here is a simulation from Shutter that he says is an introduction to the whole process.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yUJkNLwnzk.

It shows the engine start up and initial runway taxiing. For a few hundred more dollars the simulation can be upgraded to include the more complex details of flying this airplane. Shutter told me in a phone conversation that he feels comfortable starting a real 727 and getting it airborne. “But I wouldn’t want to do a landing!” he told me emphatically.

In this simulation remember the 727 is a three-engine plane, so the start up requires three engine starts. I haven’t seen a full Q400 simulation, but the introductory videos that are available indicate that it is comparable to what it takes to fire up a 727 and get it going down the runway. That begs the question of who was around, or not, and the general security during the ten-fifteen minutes it took Richard to get airborne.

Shutter told me also that he feels Russell could have educated himself sufficiently to do all the flying that he performed last Friday night, including the stunts, but reiterated that landing a Q400, even with all the fancy simulations available might not be enough to land the plane successfully. “You have to remember that landing an airplane is essentially a controlled crash descent,” Shutter said.

This last point raises another question: how did Russell plummet into Ketron Island? Was it intentional? Was it a controlled crash? Most officials are currently stating that these scenarios are most likely. A “suicidal” act is how Sheriff Pastor has characterized Russell’s demise.

But another possibility is that officials seized control of the aircraft once they determined that Russell was no longer a reliable pilot and remotely flew the plane into the wild acres of Ketron via a hack of the Q400’s computers. Were officials afraid that Russell would run out of fuel over populated lands and crash – in one of his last audio transmissions Russell said he was down to 760 pounds of fuel – or that he would drive the plane intentionally into Tacoma in a fit of anger? If so, the motivation to take control of the aircraft must have been pressing.

But is such a procedure possible? A quick Internet search reveals that this option is feasible since most aircraft rely on a “fly-by-wire” system that integrates flight controls digitally with the Internet. However, most aviation experts say the firewall protections exist to prevent a computer hack. Ironically, one of the leading sources of information on this subject is found at RT (Russia Today)!

Further, in most likelihood the presence of F-15 fighters was arguably for public show. Shooting Russell out of the skies with rockets would produce an enormous debris field that could have caused many casualties on the ground, and damaged many homes and structures. A controlled crash into a place like Ketron was actually the most favorable outcome when viewed from this perspective.

So the most vital question now is: can the computers of the Q400 be accessed remotely? If so, what safeguards exist to prevent hackers from dropping other Q400s out of the skies? Could this be the new future of terrorist skyjackings?

Getting definitive answers to those kinds of questions will take a lot of digging, but in the meantime, here is a view of what types of Q400 flight simulations software are available on the Internet.

For an at-home flight simulation package, the Majestic Software MJC8 Q400 ‘addon’ is a classic example. It offers three levels of sophistication in its simulations. Specifically:

“The MJC8 Q400 addon for Microsoft Flight Simulator X and Lockheed Martin Prepar3d is a highly realistic rendition, built after the Bombardier Dash8 Q400 aircraft. There are 3 editions, differentiating in the price and the included features.

“‘PILOT’ is an edition, designed for home flightsimmers, who want a state-of-the-art hardcore add-on but do not require the complex features, such as the instructor panel system monitoring, circuit breakers simulation, failures simulation, or the shared cockpit.

“‘PRO’ edition is for advanced users, or airline pilots wishing to improve their knowledge of the Dash8 Q400 airplane. This edition has all the features of the PILOT edition, plus the Headup Guidance System simulation, the shared cockpit feature and several more (please see the comparative table below for the full list).

“‘TRAINING’ edition (in development) is dedicated to the airlines, wishing to have a good quality inexpensive solution for the Dash8 Q400 technical and procedural training for both technical staff and the flight crews.”

Prices for these programs range from 50 Euros to 130 Euros, or approximately $75-175 USD.

The types of computers necessary to handle these kinds of software packages are generally basic units such as “any PC capable of running Flight Simulator under MS Windows versions XP, 7, 8, 8.1, 10,” according to one supplier.

One simulation company, Flyaway, offers a five-minute video promo that shows the Q400 in flight and gives a viewer a sense of what the cockpit looks like, and the surrounding landscape as one flies.

https://flyawaysimulation.com/downloads/files/9991/fsx-bombardier-dash-8-q400/

To view a video simulation of a professional Q400 aviation flight simulator, the kind professional pilots would actually use in their training:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tihB3Tk-GkA

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47 Responses to Security questions abound on how a plane was stolen from Sea-Tac airport

  1. shutter45 says:

    Flight simulators have come a long way..X-Plane 10, 11 both are as real as it gets. FSX was the last simulator by Microsoft. I have close to $2,000 into mine. the software itself is basically cheap but the continued add on’s add up..I installed FlyJSims 727 package to retrace the flight path. added Seatac and KPDX..

    This guy could of easily used something similar to what I have to learn just about everything in aviation. you have the option to start your aircraft ready to fly, or manually start the aircraft exactly how it would be done in the real world. everything is in 3 dimension making it more realistic. you could do a stunt and check the stress on the plane to see what kind of damage you have done. getting a plane off the ground is much easier than putting one back on the ground.

    I’m guessing this guy got a lot of information working in aviation and could of learned more through simulation.

    Bruce, a lot of people call me Dave Shutter…actually, my name is Dave Brown aka Shutter 🙂

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Thanks, Dave. You’ve been a big help on this story. Since we spoke this evening I’ve been researching remote control of commercial airliners. One of the most interesting piece appeared in RT (Russia Today) !!! Whew….

  2. shutter45 says:

    I believe he never intended on coming back..he apologizes as if he wasn’t coming back. then says after the barrel roll he was “was kinda hoping that was goonna be it”..

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    Yup, at one point he said he was going to put the nose down and call it a night.

  4. williambudd108gmailcom says:

    Bruce, good work!

    The time line may reveal some answers.

    We milk the cow at 8am and 8pm so we were in the barn when the sonic booms hit here at 8:10pm

    They seem to originate over Riffe Lake which is about 60 miles from JBLM. The sonic boom occurs at Mach One which is over 600mph so the jets reached the area in less that 10 minutes.

    When we heard the booms we were alarmed so I came inside and got on the phone with a neighbor who is retired AirForce. At the same time I got on the Lewis County Sires Facebook and started reading comments. At 8:13 pm there was a post from Mosey Rock about the loud booms. The Morton Police reported a military training maneuver. A repost from Fox said a plane was stolen from SeaTac. Then a post that a plane had crashed near Fort Lewis. My phone conversation confirmed the stolen plane. So I went back to the cow milking and reported that the world had not ended. Later on the news said the plane crash as soon as the jets arrived. That would be about 8:20pm

    Also: I am a desk top pilot. Maybe it should be spelled Pile It. I can take off and land small planes, I reached ACE with an F16 in combat and I have landed on an aircraft carrier. My software of choice is MS Flight Sim. The idea of putting a prop twin engine passenger plane thru a barrel roll is beyond me.

    Keep up the good work, come visit.

    William Budd

  5. Richard Thurston says:

    This was similar to an incident that happened at a USAF base in England a number of years ago. A USAF mechanic was able to steal a C-130 from the ramp and take off heading for the USA. Apparently he missed his girlfriend and wanted to get together with her. Ground crew on both military and civilian airports move airplanes around on the ramp; this happens every day at every major airfield. Russell was trained as a tow-team member which meant he knew how to maneuver an airplane on the ground. The risk is similar to a school bus driver stealing a bus and running it into a crowd. Rare, but it happens and there is no practical way to prevent it.

    BTW the guy who stole the C-130 was officially reported as :crashed at sea somewhere over the North Atlantic. That’s the official version. Real world, he was shot down by the RAF. It was feared that he would use the plane as a terror weapon.

  6. brucesmith49 says:

    Thanks, Richard. Good information.

  7. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s Note:

    Regarding the potential of a computer hack by the military to take control of Russell’s Q 400 in order to purposefully crash the plane into Ketron Island – here is a comment from the DB Cooper super sleuth known as 377:

    On 8/13/2018 1:32 PM, 377 wrote:
    > Wouldn’t be too hard to do but would require a lot of obvious avionics
    > additions. I know folks who maintain airliner avionics. No remote
    > control gear has been seen. And no chem trail gear either. I’d bet
    > 1000 to 1 that the stolen turboprop didn’t have such capability. Would
    > need air to ground telemetry and sat link to do it beyond visual
    > range. The sat data link would require a bulge and fairing on the top
    > of the fuselage. None seen.

    • Richard Thurston says:

      It is possible to control an aircraft remotely, that technology has been around since the 1960’s. But nobody has been able to develop a program that will make a safe landing with a passenger aircraft. But such systems are expensive and require skilled maintenance. Cost prohibitive for commercial aircraft. Even then, the best you can do is crash the aircraft where you want it to crash instead of where the hijacker wants to crash.

  8. brucesmith49 says:

    That sounds like what happened on Friday night, Richard.

    • Gypsy23 says:

      Don’t think so on the remote control theory, Bruce. That would make it a drone, which requires major electronic revisions and costs. The 400 is a performer. 420 mph, at altitude. But this was low altitude flying which guzzles the fuel. He had over 2100 lbs and drank it down to 700 quickly. Since the plane was parked at a maintenance bay, it probably had less than 1/2 full tanks. But the most astounding aspect is his ability to stay calm. He pulled out of his loop a mere 50 feet above the Sound. Watch the video. This kind of maneuver would cause many to black out. He did vomit. I doubt seriously that he was never on the flight deck of a 400. There will be some Horizon 400 pilot out there who will eventually admit they he had RR up on a flight and showed him how to fly the 400. Probably, multiple times.

      • shutter45 says:

        400 has a fuel capacity of a little over 1,700 gallons…lbs would be around 12,000 lbs.

        I agree, I believe he has been up in this type of plane before..

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Thanks, Dave, for fuel capacity. He was running her dry quickly and he knew it. Full throttle ride. He crashed it while there was still a bit of daylight remaining. I’ve gotten off the Steilacoom ferry at Ketron dock. This is a dinky island. Intentionally brought it in. But listen to the audio with the ATC. RR is not very nervous. To pull a loop in that size aircraft takes some skill, especially at apex before pullover. He pulled it off perfectly. And his loopout brought him within feet of water after leveling off. This guy was good. No hero, though.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Thanks, Dave, for fuel capacity. He was running her dry quickly and he knew it. Full throttle ride. He crashed it while there was still a bit of daylight remaining. I’ve gotten off the Steilacoom ferry at Ketron dock. This is a dinky island. Intentionally brought it in. But listen to the audio with the ATC. RR is not very nervous. To pull a loop in that size aircraft takes some skill, especially at apex before pullover. He pulled it off perfectly. And his loopout brought him within feet of water after leveling off. This guy was good. No hero, though.

  9. shutter45 says:

    the more I listen to this guy tells me he was a character…I’m not so sure he used a simulator..he said games. the best and hottest game would be GTA (grand theft auto) this game has planes and you can parachute out of the planes..in fact, these kids make video’s trying to parachute (no pull) into pools in the backyards aiming once they leave the plane..it’s an extremely violent and graphic game..

  10. brucesmith49 says:

    Gypsy – at full throttle, how fast was he going? From the videos it looked like 200-300 mph to me. If he was down to 760 pounds of fuel, how much time left did he have?

    How much flight training would someone need, in your estimation, to be able to do what Russell did on Friday night? What kind of secret life should we be looking for?

    • Gypsy23 says:

      Oh, Bruce. Looking for that “inside” story. 300 is a pretty good estimate. Rated at 420 cruising altitude…25,oooft.
      Rate of climb going into full loop still looked pretty fast from video. Coming out with nose down provides a lot of energy build and speed. At level off he was easily doing 300. And just above the water. I would say he was VERY lucky. With 760 lbs remaining, maybe 20 minutes, IF no aerobatics. His time was running out. Last question: I have no answer. Maybe Dave can comment. THAT is a huge question. Someone taught him to work the yoke, ailerons, and throttle with high efficiency. Landing…..Maybe not.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        btw, the Eagles are Oregon Air Guard squadron. They patrol the PNW and respond to air emergencies. I never could understand why McChord didn’t have their own fighters, or, why the Navy couldn’t respond out of Oak Harbor with Intruders.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        McChord had fighters back in 1971 and chased Cooper. Today, they have C-17s and C-141. Cargo haulers.

  11. brucesmith49 says:

    McChord is strictly a transportation hub – MAT – Military Air Transport Command. The Alt-Right folks are claiming they saw fighters taking on and off out of McChord before Russell took his plane in the air, but I have not seen any reliable corroboration on that piece.

    Initially, I. too, was surprised that the F-15s were scrambled out of PDX. Yes, one would think that Whidbey NAS would have plenty of planes with a few pea-shooters on board to take down a Q400. But, there are a few considerations: the PDX squadron is a 24/7 operation with two planes, crew, and ground support ready to go. The F-15s got to Sea-Tac is about 10 minutes, I understand, so from a budgetary point of view, that is cost-effective.

    Also, keep in the mind the Bigger Picture. Shooting a plane out of the sky is a very messy business, so having fighters a few minutes closer to Sea-Tac would serve no great purpose. I’m here to tell ya, since Russell flew over my house, I sure wouldn’t want any flaming debris falling on me or my home. A controlled crash into a remote island is the best bet, and I am grateful that was the outcome regardless of how it happened.

    If it was an intentional shoot-down, I am thankful to the guy who made the decision to take Russell out of the sky. I would have made the same call, btw. But killing anyone, even in a purposeful suicide-by-cop-in-the-sky operation, still leaves a mark. Not everyone can shoulder that weight.

  12. brucesmith49 says:

    Yeah, Gyp, you’re right. In ’71 there were fighters based at McChord. I wonder if they’re still there. I’ll have to ask Ron Forman to join the conversation. He as a mechanic at McChord back in the day, and should know.

    • Gypsy23 says:

      Those were F-105 or 106. Obsolete and no longer in military service. F-15 is the main vehicle for Air Guard, except in Hawaii, where the Air Guard flies F-22. Was interesting to listen to RR audio with ATC. He wanted to fly North to visit the mama Orca and her dead baby. What does that say about RR?

  13. brucesmith49 says:

    Yeah, that boy was all over the place, psychologically. Manic episode?

  14. Well, he said he wanted to go to the Olympics and check that out. When he said that, I liked him already. I took a ride over the Olympics many, many years ago in the passenger seat of a Cessna 150 two seater. This crazy pilot, a guy I worked with, actually landed it on Shi Shi Beach without catching sand in the wheels, and we flipped the tail around a few minutes later for takeoff. Jail if we are caught LOL, but he was good. On the takeoff I left my stomach on the ground.

    I’ve also heard that almost anyone can get a plane off the deck and direct it in the air with a little knowledge. The problem is getting it back on the ground again safely. Russell’s comments about not wanting to get anyone hurt or damage anything at McChord AFB was a tell. He knew he couldn’t land the thing.

    Maybe he played World of Warplanes a lot. Who knows? The NTSB report and the FBI investigation will eventually reveal what happened. The remote control angle is a non-starter, in my opinion.

    We are sponsoring a three-day campout in the Olympics in September to have fun and do video. The original plan was to do a round-table discussion out there (with a REAL table) on the DB Cooper case. We’ve added a discussion on this incident to the agenda. Anyone interested who lives in the Seattle/Puget Sound is invited to attend. Just contact me privately for details.

    • Gypsy23 says:

      On a side note, Bruce, I noticed your supposed friend, Meyer, making derogatory and snide comments directed at you on Shutters. Some friend. What is it with these guys? They are given a topic to weigh-in on, and they always redirect the focus to themselves. Others……ahhhmmm, do the same here.
      I’ve always enjoyed your aggressive, inquisitive style. You and Dave need to figure out how to eliminate these kind of guys from interrupting and taking control of the two sites. It’s really getting old.

  15. Come on, Gypsy23. That’s a different website, a different format entirely. And I don’t see any posts here by Meyer Louie. The Russell incident is going to bring out a lot of theories, and many points, even some argument maybe. But in the end, the NTSB will get to the bottom of things. A few comments about this incident on an entirely different site has no bearing here, and is just stirring up trouble.

    You should also stop talking about ‘eliminating these kind of guys’. No one is ‘taking control’ of anything and once you start practicing non-inclusion and trying to crush other viewpoints without a damn good reason, it leads to things that are not so good and goes against journalistic integrity.

    My opinion on Russell and what he did is that he may have suffered from depression, kept it hidden from his family perhaps. That mention of receiving ‘minimum wage’ bothered me a bit. Maybe he came to the idea his life was going nowhere. I don’t know. I did feel a bit for the guy, especially when you could tell from his transmissions that he had a great deal of concern about not wanting to hurt anyone. It shows some humanity in him, some compassion. But the whole thing was a tragedy for sure.

  16. brucesmith49 says:

    Audio Transcripts –
    The following is a 16 minute compendium of the communications between Seattle Center and Richard Russell during his flight. The first few minutes are distorted, but it smooths out the 3-minute mark. I found it very interesting.

    https://heavy.com/news/2018/08/plane-hijacked-stolen-audio-seatac-seattle/

  17. Very good find. “His wheels are smoking left and right..” I *thought* I heard that early on in the recording. He must have shoved the throttle up good on takeoff, if that’s the case.

  18. Mark M says:

    RT wrote: “But nobody has been able to develop a program that will make a safe landing with a passenger aircraft.” When I worked for Hughes Aircraft I rode jumpseat in the cockpit of a British Airways L 1011 for five hours on a flight to London. The crew demonstrated a hands-off fully automatic landing at LHR. The triple redundant voting autopilot system was coupled to the ILS and even managed the throttle settings to keep the descent rate perfect. The big tri jet touched down exactly on the runway centerline and auto braking slowed us to taxy speed. From Wikipedia: The L-1011 featured a highly advanced autopilot system and was the first widebody to receive FAA certification for Cat-IIIc autolanding, which approved the TriStar for completely blind landings in zero-visibility weather performed by the aircraft’s autopilot.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      I had heard about that, or something similar. Thanks, Mark.

      • Everett says:

        Hi Bruce, Thank you for the e-mail. What do you want to bet this is the beginning of a new era in stealing planes! Guys watch this and and realize anyone can fly a plane ! Mark my word This is just the beginning A new book for you to write Bruce Better yet write a book on How to land! Thanks for your e mail and I have read you book three times now Keep the right side UP Everett Johnson, Bellevue

      • brucesmith49 says:

        Thanks, Everett, for your kind words.

        You may correct on the contagion effect of stealing an airplane. We’re going to need a new style “Cooper vane.”

      • Gypsy23 says:

        L-1011 air frames were developed in early 70,’s as competitive response to DC-10. Lockheed v. McDonald Douglas. By the 80,s all of these wide bodies had avionics systems allowing for computerized control. Old technology. Today, pilots are trained to “manage” and back-up the computer systems. Tricky landings due to weather and terrain rely greatly on these systems. But they are not 100% foolproof. Flight deck management is a coordinated effort of all capable systems. Nothing like a good set of trained eyes and clear mind, alert, in the pit. Ask any NAVY jockey who sets down a Phantom, Tomcat, or Hornet on the carrier deck at night. A computer doesn’t do that.

  19. shutter45 says:

    The L1011 was the first computerized plane that could fly itself..it’s also the plane that went down in the everglades. soon after the accident they put parts from flight 401 into other aircraft and witnesses stated seeing the flight crew on many occasions. they were only seen on the planes that had the parts from 401…

    Pieces of the plane are still visible from the accident on December 29, 1972..today. the cause of the accident was a light bulb that burnt out…the entire crew was focused on the problem and failed to notice they were slowly descending until it was too late..the auto pilot was bumped (yoke) and caused the auto pilot to disengage..176 on board and 75 survived. a man in a airboat rescued a lot of people trapped that evening..he passed away several years ago..

  20. brucesmith49 says:

    Flight 401 was an L-1011? I had forgotten that. The book, The Ghost of Flight 401 is an excellent read about the apparitions that appeared on Eastern aircraft that carried remnants from 401.

    I flew an L-1011 and I remember it as being a sweet ride.

    • Gypsy23 says:

      Yep, I read the “Ghosts of Flight 401” too. Popular read back in the 80s. Chicago DC-10 down on take-off in 1979 was another haunting story. Apparitions with suitcases appeared walking around nearby and reportedly knocking on doors of local residents. If you believe it all.

      Flight 401 crash boiled down to this: nose gear wouldn’t lower, so crew was distracted with manual operation while ignoring altitude loss. Another Tri-star went down during Dallas approach. Wind shear to blame. Computer failed to detect. I rode in pit of DC -10 from LAX to SFO in late 80s by invite of captain on night flight. World Airways. Now defunct. Night landings are awesome, approach lighting, strobes and illumination on panels. The best.

      • shutter45 says:

        actually, the gear was going down. it was a faulty light that caused all the problems..

        NTSB
        PROBABLE CAUSE: “The failure of the fight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final 4 minutes of flight, and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground. Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed.”

        also labeled “distraction in the cockpit” the co-pilot went into the hell hole were a scope an be used to manually check the gear..I believe he had problems seeing it but thought it was down…the gear was down, again, it was the light that caused them to crash due to everyone in the cockpit focused on one problem while nobody was watching what was going on with the plane. I believe cockpit warning were also heard on the tapes that they didn’t hear due to the confusion going on with one little burnt out bulb..

  21. shutter45 says:

    I remember watching the movie when I was younger..most of the survivors keep in touch with each other…the last I heard was they were trying to build a memorial but were having problems with funding..

    I believe it’s less than a mile on the other side of the same levy is where the Valujet went into the Glades in the mid 90’s…

  22. Flight 401: Cockpit crew trying to figure out if the landing gear was actually down. Look through this hole, maybe that one, use a flashlight, is this light on, or what? Meanwhile they accidentally kick off the autopilot and start descending in the dark without realizing it. Last few lines of cockpit recordings from Last Words dot com:

    AM 2 It’s a faulty light.
    23.41:05 CAM 2 Bob, this ### just won’t come out.
    CAM 1 All right leave it there.
    CAM 3 I don’t see it down there.
    CAM 1 Huh?
    CAM 3 I don’t see it.
    CAM 1 You can’t see that indis … for the nose wheel ah, there’s a place in there you can look and see if they’re lined up.
    CAM 3 I know, a little like a telescope.
    CAM 1 Yeah.
    CAM 3 Well …
    CAM 1 It’s not lined up?
    CAM 3 I can’t see it, it’s pitch dark and I throw the little light I get ah nothing.
    23.41:31 CAM 4 Wheel-well lights on?
    CAM 3 Pardon?
    CAM 4 Wheel-well lights on?
    CAM 3 Yeah wheel well lights always on if the gear’s down.
    CAM 1 Now try it.
    23.41:40 APP Eastern, ah 401 how are things coming along out there?
    23.41:44 RT Okay, we’d like to turn around and come, come back in.
    CAM 1 Clear on left?
    CAM 2 Okay
    23.41:47 APP Eastern 401 turn left heading one eight zero.
    23.41:50 CAM 1 Huh?
    23.41:51 RT One eighty.
    23.42:05 CAM 2 We did something to the altitude.
    CAM 1 What?
    23.42:07 CAM 2 We’re still at two thousand right?
    23.42:09 CAM 1 Hey, what’s happening here?
    CAM ? [Sound of click]
    23.42:10 CAM ? [Sound of six beeps similar to radio altimeter increasing in rate]
    23.42:12 [Sound of impact]

  23. shutter45 says:

    23.40:38 CAM [Sound of altitude alert]
    nobody heard the alert

    CAM-3 I know, a little like a telescope
    CAM-1 Yeah
    CAM-3 Well…
    CAM-1 It’s not lined up?
    CAM-3 I can’t see it, it’s pitch dark and I throw the little light I get ah nothing
    23.41:31 CAM-4 Wheel-well lights on?
    CAM-3 Pardon?
    CAM-4 Wheel-well lights on?
    CAM-3 Yeah wheel well lights always on if the gear’s down
    CAM-1 Now try it
    23.41:40 APP Eastern, ah 401 how are things comin’ along out there?
    23.41:44 RDO-1 Okay, we’d like to turn around and come, come back in
    CAM-1 Clear on left?
    CAM-2 Okay
    23.41:47 APP Eastern 401 turn left heading one eight zero
    23.41:50 CAM-1 Huh?
    23.41:51 RDO-1 One eighty
    23.42:05 CAM-2 We did something to the altitude
    CAM-1 What?
    23.42:07 CAM-2 We’re still at two thousand right?
    23.42:09 CAM-1 Hey, what’s happening here?
    CAM [Sound of click]
    23.42:10 CAM [Sound of six beeps similar to radio altimeter increasing in rate]
    23.42:12 [Sound of impact]

    • Gypsy23 says:

      What? Blevins and Shutter on same page and minute? Unbelievable. Go dig up cockpit transcripts of final 30 seconds of L-1011 on final into DFW. Also Alaska Air, 727 crash near Juneau in 1971, due to zero visibility in mountains. And, audio transcripts of DC-9 in collision with Cessna over San Diego in late 70’s. “I love you, momma!” says captain’s final words. And don’t forget Tennerife and two 747s on ground also around 1979. Most ever killed. 70s and 80s had the worst crashes. Most of it due to inattentiveness and lack of proper communication. Those were flying heydays, when pilots and stewardesses were having free for all sex. Lots of screwing, drinking, and partying going on.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        ADN, Aircraft Dealer Network, has a 1982 L-1011 for sale: $1.6 mil.
        Looks good in photos. Clean. Over 5000 cycles remaining.

  24. 23.40:38 CAM [Sound of altitude alert]
    nobody heard the alert

    Too busy yakking, looking for pliers and a Kleenex, etc. Cost about a hundred folks their lives.

  25. Gypsy23 says in part:
    “And, audio transcripts of DC-9 in collision with Cessna over San Diego in late 70’s. “I love you, momma!” says captain’s final words…”

    Not to be nit-picky, but either the pilot or co-pilot said at the last moment, “Ma, I love you..” It’s heartbreaking, really. The crash was caused when the crew lost track of a Cessna being piloted by a student going for his instrument-only rating, who was working from under a hood that prevented him from seeing outside the cockpit. There was an instructor in attendance. It was not a DC9, but a Boeing 727. The accident was mostly blamed on the Cessna by the NTSB, since it deviated from its assigned flight course. But the jet crew lost track of the Cessna even after they were warned it was ahead of them, and below them, so who knows? Basically, the 727 was on a landing approach and descending, and caught up with the Cessna. Bang. Everyone dies a few seconds later and a neighborhood in San Diego is a burning mess of bodies and debris. Forty years ago this year.

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