On August 2, 1985, Delta Flight 191 dropped out of the sky near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, taking the lives of 137 persons.  The cause of the crash was wind shear conditions during a thunderstorm, which created a weather phenomenon known as a microburst –  first speeding the plane up, then slowing it down dramatically, causing it to hit the ground before it reached the runway.  

Today, twenty-five years to the date of the crash, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is holding a ceremony to memorialize the victims of Flight 191 and recognize the personnel who worked the disaster.  Another reason to observe the date is to emphasize the tragedy’s legacy for improving the safety of air travel. 

Weather systems have been enhanced to allow precision forecasting.  Instruments on the ground can look inside clouds today to see the churnings that can lead to wind shear and microbursts.  Commercial aircrafts have sophisticated systems that can tell pilots where those dangerous winds are.  D/FW, the third busiest airport in the nation, is at the forefront of this type of detection.  The airport has 18 wind shear detection towers and two Doppler radar systems.  

Another lesson learned from 191 is that these types of accidents may be survivable.  Fire trucks have special firefighting tools that can possibly enable them to rescue passengers.  A probe  attached to a hose, can shoot a fire retardant into the fuselage, and cool it down so rescue workers can get inside.  D/FW’s fire training center has taught 15,000 airport firefighters from 23 countries; its’ staff travels to accidents around the country to see what methods worked and what didn’t work. 

A federal judge found the flight crew of 191 at fault for trying to land in the hazardous weather.  The aviation industry has a training strategy called “crew resource management,” encouraging co-pilots to speak their mind if they are concerned, even if it means challenging the captain.  A standard part of pilot training is a requirement for pilots to “fly” Delta 191, in flight simulators.  This re-creation helps a pilot recognize the unstable winds early on and allows them to give their plane full power while pulling up as hard as possible.  

There were twenty-seven survivors (some with devastating injuries) of this crash; they and the families of the victims will never forget this tragedy.  Quoting the Star-Telegram: “The memorial today is a somber reminder that no matter how advanced technology becomes, we should never take for granted what a complicated and remarkable endeavor air travel is.” 

Sources: Dallas Morning News, Ft Worth Star-Telegram