• A Memorial

I've tried to collect here first person accounts of aviation related experiences. Most are interesting, some are funny, and a few are heroic. This one is simply sad, and I though long and hard before posting it. I have, in the end, as a memorial.

On January 31, 2000, about 1621 Pacific standard time, Alaska Airlines, Inc., flight 261, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, N963AS, crashed into the Pacific Ocean about 2.7 miles north of Anacapa Island, California.

The 2 pilots, 3 cabin crewmembers, and 83 passengers on board were killed, and the airplane was destroyed by impact forces. Flight 261 was operating as a scheduled international passenger flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 from Lic Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, Washington, with an intermediate stop planned at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan.

After departure, Alaska 261 climbed to FL310. Two hours into the flight, the flight crew contacted Dispatch and Maintenance Control in Seattle, and discussed a jammed elevator and a possible diversion to LAX. The jammed elevator didn't respond to trim changes , so at their altitude and airspeed the pilots had to continuously exert an estimated 10 pound pull to maintain level flight. None in the air or on the ground could determine the cause of the problem.

At 4:09 p.m., the flight crew managed to unjam the horizontal stabilizer with the primary trim system, but it went to full "nose-down" position and force the aircraft in to what the crew reported to ATC as a vertical dive. By exerting an estimated 130 to 140 pounds on the controls they stopped the descent at about FL240, the attempted the check handling in the landing configuiration while over the ocean, and asked to divert to LAX.

Beginning at 4:19 p.m., the CVR recorded the sounds of at least four distinct "thumps" (flight bags hitting the overhead?), followed 17 seconds later by an "extremely loud noise". The aircraft rapidly pitched over into a dive. The CVR transcript shows the pilots' continuous attempts for the duration of the dive to regain control of the aircraft. At one point, unable to raise the nose, they even attempted to fly the aircraft inverted. However they couldn't recover, and descended for 1 minute, 21 seconds before impacting the ocean at high speed.

Radio (scanner omits time when there are no transmissions): Alaska Flight 261

Full NTSB report: PDF Document


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