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Alaska Air 261 Accident

by John M. White |

On January 31st 2000 an Alaska Air MD-80 crashed while enroute from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco just off the coast of Los Angeles. As a result of this accident 83 passengers and 5 crew members perished. The subsequent investigation revealed that the jackscrew which controlled the tail horizontal stabilizer had been improperly maintained and lacked proper lubrication causing the jackscew to jam and become unmovable. When the NTSB issued its final report it noted that shoddy maintenance at the airline was the reason for a lack of grease on the horizontal stabilizer jackscrew which contributed to excessive wear and the eventual failure of the jackscrew. The report went on to further note that "There was no effective lubrication on the (parts) at the time of the Alaska Airlines flight 261 accident. The excessive and accelerated wear of the (parts) was the result of insufficient lubrication, which was directly causal to the Alaska Airlines flight 261 accident." Alaska Airline had decided to lengthen the time between lubrication of the jackscew with the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of that change. The NTSB report stated that this change had "increased the likelihood that a missed or inadequate lubrication would result in excessive wear … and, therefore, was a direct cause of the excessive wear and contributed to the Alaska Airlines flight 261 accident." The NTSB also noted that "The Federal Aviation Administration did not fulfill its responsibility to properly oversee the maintenance operations at Alaska Airlines, and at the time of the Alaska Airlines flight 261 accident, FAA surveillance of Alaska Airlines had been deficient for at least several years." For those of us who fly this is a scary proposition, that the FAA can approve a maintenance procedure without adequate investigation of the potential dangers of that change which could then result in a fatal aircraft accident. Following is a video which simulates what occurred during this accident: This accident teaches us that “Fate Is The Hunter” even in modern aircraft today. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

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