The Time a Plane Half-Crashed at BWI — And No One Died

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Photo via the NTSB
Photo of damage via the NTSB

(Warning:  If you’ve got a fear of flying, you may as well stop reading now.) The scary images from the plane that crash landed in San Francisco earlier this week reminded some of a similar disaster that took place at BWI in 2009, when World Airways flight 8535 smashed into the runway with 168 passengers on board.

The Baltimore Sun just published a thrilling recap of the scene that day — thrilling only in retrospect, and because no one died:

“The touchdown felt firm,” pilot Craig Gatch told National Transportation Safety Board investigators. “The nose of the aircraft felt like it came up uncontrollably and pitched up fast and tight.”

The plane slammed down again — Boeing estimated the force at 3.2 Gs — blowing a tire and leaving debris on the runway.

In the cabin, ceiling panels fell, oxygen masks dropped and smoke appeared.

“Go around. Go around,” shouted co-pilot Kirby Lottridge and flight engineer Brent Foster, captured on the cockpit voice recorder.

“Maximum thrust,” replied Gatch.

Photo of damage via the NTSB
Photo of damage via the NTSB

Two of the plane’s three engines immediately responded to the throttle. One did not.

The plane rose slowly to 2,000 feet.

“[Expletive], I can’t believe we did that. … Let’s declare an emergency,” said Gatch before asking the control tower for permission to make another approach.

Even with shattered nerves and a half-wrecked plane, the pilots and crew were able to make a (relatively) uneventful landing the second time around. Four passengers were taken to the hospital, one with serious injuries — but unlike the San Francisco crash, no one died.

(The hard landing is visible in the upper left corner starting at 0:48)

These days, the plane still sits at BWI. In the crash, its nosegear was crushed, its bulkhead was compromised, and its body panels were crumpled and torn. It’s no good as an aircraft, but it still serves a noble purpose — acting as a training ground for firefighters, paramedics, and police officers learning how to deal with airplane disasters. Let’s hope it’s knowledge they’ll never have to use.



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