Alaska Air 261 Accident

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!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

How To Land An Airplane While Unconscious

Here is the headline in the newspaper: “Plane Lands Itself in Hayfield as Pilot Slumbers.”

Its December, the weather is cold, and the pilot – a physician with a Private Pilot license and Instrument rating – has taken off from Great Bend, KS enroute to Topeka, KS in daylight VFR conditions. He has 553 hours in the Piper Comanche 400 aircraft including 58 hours of actual instrument time.

The pilot had climbed to 5,500 feet mean sea level, trimmed the aircraft for cruise, set the GPS navigation system, engaged the autopilot and then switched the fuel selector lever to the left auxiliary fuel tank.

So far so good, right?

Well…. not so good! At around 9:30am Central Standard Time the aircraft touched down in a flat hay field near Caro, MO in a wings level attitude and then slid approximately 525 feet before running into a fence.

The groggy pilot awoke from a deep sleep with a throbbing headache and, thinking himself still airborne, began going through his pre-landing check list. Within a few minutes he realized that the right wing of the aircraft was nearly severed from the aircraft by a tree, but that the main part of the aircraft remained intact.

Of course, the engine had stopped when it ran out of fuel, which explains why no one heard the aircraft gliding into the open hay field. Once aware of his surroundings, the pilot extricated himself from the aircraft and walked to a farm house about 1/4 mile away.

How did this happen?

Carbon monoxide poisoning from a cracked muffler had allowed the odorless, colorless deadly gas to seep into the cockpit, causing the pilot to fall asleep.

Had the engine continued operating for another 30 minutes and the results might have been even worse. By then the pilot would probably have been dead.

For this reason it is important to your good health and continued life to make sure the muffler on your aircraft has no cracks, and to install a carbon monoxide detector in the cockpit to warn you of danger.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


If there were no risks it probably would not be worth doing. I certainly believe an airplane is capable of killing you, and in that sense I respect it.

— Steve Ishmael, NASA Test Pilot

ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!