This plane was spanking brand new in 1972.
The pilot had 30 years of experience. Just before a midnight approach to Miami, he deployed the landing gear.
A small light in the cockpit was supposed to indicate when the landing gear was down and secure. That light had burned out.
No matter – the landing gear could be deployed by a hand crank and verified by sight. But the pilot was annoyed by the failure of the light.
Instead, he delayed the landing and ascended to a holding pattern at 2,000 feet. He wanted to debug the problem.
He sent the copilot down to eye-ball the landing gear. He then raised the gear up and back down.
While he was screwing around with the (fully functioning) landing gear, turning around to talk to the co-pilot – he didn’t notice he had deactivated the autopilot and nudged the nose of the plane slightly downward.
The altitude alarm went unheard because it was on the copilot’s side – now vacant.
“We’re still at 2,000 feet, right?” was the final transmission of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 before crashing into the ground, killing 101 people.
The plane was found to be in perfect working order except for a single burnt out light bulb.
Christopher Reiss – Interested in movies, math, history, technology and culture.