Once away from its gate, Flight 90 moved into line behind other jets and used hot exhaust from the plane in front to melt the accumulated snow on its wings. (Cockpit voice recorder tapes later showed that Flight 90s engine de-icing equipment was not activated prior to takeoff.) Flight 90 was eventually cleared for takeoff, and the plane accelerated down the runway. Soon after takeoff, the planes nose pulled up, but the plane would not gain altitude. The aircraft soon stalled, sank toward the Potomac River, and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge.
As Flight 90 impacted the bridge, it struck several cars and killed five people before violently crashing into the iced-over Potomac River and quickly sinking in 20 feet of water. Rescue efforts saved only five people from the airplane, over 70 passengers and crew died. Crash investigations later concluded the planes anti-ice mechanism had not been activated, causing the plane's engines to ingest large amounts of ice and snow and lose power.
Subsequent salvage of the plane and the bodies of those aboard took 12 days. Divers worked under the ice as air temperatures remained in the negative 20s. By January 25, all the bodies and 95 percent of the plane's wreckage, including the most important "black boxes" had been recovered.
We can apply this principle to all weather events and patterns, especially this time of year when tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes are prevalent. Hurricanes move rapidly once they are out of the tropics, often traveling 1,000 miles a day.
So how does one keep up with tropical weather? Keep a careful eye on tropical waves, those areas of disturbances that begin over Africa and move east to west across the Atlantic, north of the equator and south of approximately 20° N. These areas of disturbed weather are called waves because of their appearance on surface-weather charts with isobar lines extended northward to form the shape of a wave.
All tropical weather begins in these tropical waves, so tracking each wave coming off the coast of Africa is the first, and most important step, in staying aware and ahead of developing tropical systems. You can find tropical weather charts on the Internet at www.nhc.noaa.gov, www.mpc.ncep.noaa.gov, and www.weather.noaa.gov.
|"The power of nature, and its ability to take down a mighty and powerful 737 jet sobered me."|
Weather can and often does overwhelm us. We feel caught unaware by fast-moving and quickly developing systems, which once upon us allow no options. Once Air Florida's Flight 90 commenced takeoff, they were committed. And so here is the key word, "committed." Once you choose to depart port and choose a route, you are committed. Make sure that you have options. Dont commit to a departure or route that does not have alternatives. Plan a route that gives you sea room and a cushion in time and space.
The power of nature, and its ability to take down a mighty and powerful 737 jet sobered me. Today, almost 20 years after this event, when I drive across the Potomac Rivers 14th street bridge, I look down at the calm river and immediately remember that tragic afternoon. So, stay weather-wise and ever-vigilant!
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