On March 22, 1992, US Air was preparing to take off from Newark’s LaGuardia Airport for Cleveland, Ohio. The Fokker F28 (registration number N485US) had 47 passengers and four crew members on board. The flight was arriving from Jacksonville, Florida, but was delayed due to bad weather over New York. Another delay was caused by passengers deciding to disembark the aircraft in Jacksonville and their luggage had to be removed from the hold. The plane finally arrived at the gate one hour and six minutes later than scheduled.
The captain was Wallace J. Majeur II, and the co-pilot was John Latuba. Flight attendants were Deborah Andrews Taylor and Janice King. The crew was on the third day of a four-day series of operations. Early that morning, they left a hotel in Bristol, Tennessee, and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, arriving at 11:40 a.m. They were then assigned a flight to Jacksonville, Florida, arriving at 3:50 p.m. The flight was scheduled to depart at 16:35, but actually departed at 17:15.
The flight crew disembarked from the plane to use facilities within the airport terminal. When they returned, the weather had not improved. The aircraft was being de-iced with Type 1 fluid, a heated mixture of half water and half glycol. Adding to the delays, one of the de-icing trucks had a mechanical problem, blocking the aircraft’s path. After 20 minutes, the truck was finally removed and the captain requested a second de-icing, but the crew did not walk around. After deicing, air traffic controllers cleared Flight 405 to taxi to Runway 13 at 21:05.
The pre-flight checklist was completed during the taxi and the de-icing systems on both engines were turned on. The captain announced to the passengers to keep the flaps up during the taxi. He placed an empty coffee cup on the flap handle to remind him of the flap’s location. He instructed the co-pilot to use procedures with the contaminated runway flaps at 18 degrees. Takeoff takes place at a speed of 110 knots/130 mph, with him lowering the V. Flight attendants gave a safety briefing and ensured the cabin was ready for takeoff.
All taxiways were covered with snow, and runway 13 had a thin layer of wet snow that had recently been plowed and treated with urea and sand. The co-pilot noticed that the snow was not falling very much and was sliding off the aircraft. He checked the wings several times to make sure there was no ice, but found no dirt, so he decided not to de-ice the aircraft a third time, delaying further work.
After the plane in front of me took off, the co-pilot said, “Look at that. What is that?” The captain replied, “It’s probably sand. Urea and sand.” A nervous passenger told Janice that he was worried there was ice on the wings. She went to the cockpit and asked if there was any chance of ice on her wings. Janice told the passengers, “Everything is fine, everything is normal.”
Read more: How aircraft deicing works
ready for takeoff
Flight 405 was several hours behind schedule, causing ground traffic congestion and taxi journey times ranging from 25 to 45 minutes. The flight attendants sat in jump seats and prepared for takeoff, with Deborah in the front seat and Janice in the back. The flight crew began the takeoff roll, the co-pilot called out at 80 knots, followed by V and VR. After only about two seconds, his front legs lifted off the ground and everything seemed normal.
The flight attendant noticed that the aircraft did not appear to be moving fast enough. Passengers said the plane was shaking. The co-pilot noticed a loss of lift and the captain attempted to level the wings. Their first priority was to raise the plane’s nose and find a safe place to land. They used the rudder to steer the plane towards the ground and avoid the water.
Five seconds after takeoff, the left wing scraped 110 feet along the runway. Six stall warnings occurred and the aircraft pitched to the left, then to the right, then to the left again. The impact struck the ILS beacon and water pump house, tearing off the aircraft’s left wing and left engine. There was a flash, a shock, a rumbling, and then it suddenly stopped. The aircraft crashed into the edge of Flushing Bay and landed partially upside down in the water. There were no brace commands from Deborah or Janice.
In the front of the cabin, passengers were hanging upside down from their seats. Some passengers were submerged in water while sitting in their seats, with water reaching up to their heads. Passengers became confused and disoriented, and some drowned in their seats. In the chaos, some people were unable to unbuckle their seatbelts. A fire broke out in the forward cabin, and a small fire also broke out on the water. There was thick black smoke. More than 200 rescue workers rushed to the scene, working to rescue those still trapped in the cabin and pulling survivors out of the water.
Voices and screams arose from the people trapped in the hut. Some of the wreckage was on fire. Limbs were found floating in the water, along with the bodies of people who had already drowned and floated to the surface. Some bodies were badly burned by the fire. Two women were frozen in parts of the plane and had to be removed while still attached to the plane.
The plane crashed into Flushing Bay at 21:35 local time in bad weather. There were 24 survivors, 21 of whom were injured. 27 people died that day, including the captain and flight attendant Janice. Eight of the 27 people suffered minor injuries but drowned. Seven people were seriously injured and drowned. Nine people died from blunt force trauma. One person died from burns and smoke inhalation. One person died from the burns, and one person survived but died in hospital from cervical spine injuries. Some survivors suffered broken bones, burns, bruises and cuts.
Shocked survivors escaped through holes in the plane’s fuselage, some helping each other out of the water, and some climbing ridges back to the runway. Deborah and his co-pilot found a gap in the cabin floor near the jump seat and escaped. She meandered out of the plane and was pulled ashore by the surviving passengers. Some passengers swam through the muddy water and rushed to shore. The current was now their enemy, and the rescue team was forced to halt their efforts.
Cause of accident
The NTSB said the accident was caused by pilot error and inadequate deicing at LaGuardia. There was a long delay while taxiing and there was ice on the wings and fuselage. This disrupted airflow, increased drag, reduced lift on takeoff, and prevented the jet from climbing off the runway. The flight crew did not realize there was so much ice on the wings. Another contributing factor was that the aircraft began its takeoff rotation too early at a lower than standard speed.
There was a 35-minute delay on the ground, and the deicer was only effective for 15 minutes. This accident led to much research into ice and aircraft and prevention techniques. We also found an error in that the safety card did not provide instructions on how to operate the galley service door or main boarding door in emergency mode. Although the exit was not used in this incident, the safety board found that the safety card was inaccurate and passengers needed to know how to open the exit in an emergency. However, this is not believed to have contributed to the accident.