Fifty years ago, today…
Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 was a scheduled flight from [New York] JFK to [Miami/Wilcox Field] MIA. Shortly before midnight on December 29, 1972, the Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar crashed into the Florida Everglades, causing 101 total fatalities. Three of the [four] cockpit crew members, two of the [ten] flight attendants and 96 of the 163 passengers were killed. [T]here were 75 survivors.
Flight 401 departed JFK Airport […] at 9:20pm EST. The flight was routine until 11:32pm EST, when the plane began its approach into Miami International Airport. After lowering the [landing] gear, First Officer Stockstill noticed that the landing gear indicator (nose gear is properly locked) had not illuminated (burned out bulb). [Captain] Loft, who was working the radio during this leg of the flight, told the tower that they would discontinue their approach to their airport and requested to enter a holding pattern. The approach controller cleared the flight to climb to 2,000 feet and then hold west over the Everglades.
Fifty seconds after reaching their assigned altitude, Captain Loft instructed First Officer Stockstill to put the L-1011 on autopilot. For the next 80 seconds, the plane maintained level flight. Then, it dropped 100 feet and, then, again, flew level for two more minutes, after which it began a descent so gradual, it could not be perceived by the crew.
The plane continued to drop, triggering the altitude warning. The CVR did not record any indication that the pilots heard the warning chimes. As Stockstill started another turn [of] 180°, he noticed the discrepancy. The CVR captured the last, confused conversation between Stockstill and Loft. Less than ten seconds later, the plane crashed into the Everglades. ~Vic
Giant Jetliner Goes Down (The Bulletin)
Jet’s Fall Cushioned By Swamp (Reading Eagle)
Accident Investigation Report (Aviation Safety Network)
Borman Praises Survivors’ Calm (The Associated Press)