Delta Air Lines Flight 191

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Not to be confused with American Airlines Flight 191.

For other flights numbered 191, see Flight 191 (disambiguation).
Delta Air Lines Flight 191
The wreckage of Flight 191's tail section. A Boeing 727 can be seen in the background.
Accident summary
Date August 2, 1985
Summary Microburst, pilot error
Site Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
32°55′06″N 097°01′25″W / 32.91833°N 97.02361°W / 32.91833; -97.02361Coordinates: 32°55′06″N 097°01′25″W / 32.91833°N 97.02361°W / 32.91833; -97.02361
Passengers 152
Crew 11
Injuries (non-fatal) 28 (including 1 on ground)
Fatalities 137 (including 1 on ground)
Survivors 27
Aircraft type Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar
Operator Delta Air Lines
Registration N726DA
Flight origin Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport
Stopover Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Destination Los Angeles International Airport

Delta Air Lines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled Delta Air Lines domestic service from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida to Los Angeles International Airport, California, with a stopover at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. On the afternoon of August 2, 1985, the Lockheed L-1011 operating the service crashed after it flew into a microburst while on approach to land on Runway 17C at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). The crash resulted in the deaths of 136 of the 152 passengers and 11 crew on board, and another person on the ground.


The accident aircraft was N726DA, a Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar. It was only six years old, having been delivered to Delta in 1979.


The flight was piloted by Captain Edward "Ed" Connors, 57, First Officer Rudolph "Rudy" Price, 42, and Second Officer Nick Nassick, 43.[1] Connors was an extremely experienced pilot, having been with the airline for more than 30 years and having logged 29,300 flight hours. The first and second officers were also experienced, each having flown 6,500 hours. All three men on the flight deck died, along with flight attendants Fran Alford, Freida Artz, Joan Modzelewski, Alyson Lee and Diane Johnson. Flight attendants Jenny Amatulli, Wendy Robinson and Vickie Chavis, who were seated in jump seats in the rear of the cabin, survived.


A Delta Air Lines Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar identical to the one involved in the crash.

As the aircraft flew over Louisiana, a thunderstorm formed directly in its path. The aircraft began its descent procedures over Louisiana, heading over the planned descent route. Captain Connors then recognized the forming thunderstorm and took action to change the plane's heading to avoid the turbulent weather.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, weather was also poor and an isolated thunderstorm developed in the vicinity of the airport. The flight crew noticed the isolated storms ahead, but decided to proceed through them anyway, which resulted in the aircraft getting caught in a microburst. At an altitude of about 1,500 feet (460 m), First Officer Price mentioned to Captain Connors that he saw lightning in one of the clouds ahead.

At an altitude of about 800 feet (240 m), the aircraft's airspeed increased significantly without crew intervention. Although the aircraft was supposed to land at 149 knots IAS (276 km/h), its airspeed instead increased to 173 knots IAS (320 km/h). Price tried to stabilize the aircraft's speed, but Connors recognized the aircraft's speed increase as a sign of wind shear, and he warned Price to watch the speed. Connors told Price, "You're going to lose it all of a sudden ... there it is." Suddenly, the aircraft's airspeed dropped from 173 to 133 knots IAS (320 to 246 km/h), and Price pushed the throttles forward, giving temporary lift, but the speed then dropped. In addition to the sudden tailwind, the aircraft also experienced a downdraft of more than 30 feet per second (10 m/s). This downdraft reversed itself several times over the final moments of the flight.

External audio
Cockpit voice recorder audio from

As Price struggled to maintain control of the aircraft through rapidly changing wind conditions, it was hit by a sudden sideward gust, causing a rapid roll to the right and an increase in the aircraft's angle of attack. Price attempted to regain control by pushing the aircraft's nose down to avoid a stall, but the severe wind conditions continued to force the airplane towards the ground. Its descent rate reached 5,000 feet per minute at 280 feet (85 m) above ground level. Price pulled the aircraft's nose up forcefully just before impact as the captain called "TOGA" ("Take Off/Go Around"), reducing the airplane's descent rate to 10 feet per second (3 m/s) at the initial touchdown.

The aircraft first struck the ground in a field about 6,300 feet (1,900 m) north of the approach end of runway 17C (at the time known as 17L) and bounced back into the air. While crossing State Highway 114 it came down again, one of its engines striking a black 1971 Toyota Celica. The driver, William Hodge Mayberry, was killed instantly. The aircraft also clipped a highway light pole near its wing root, igniting the wing fuel tank, before skidding onto the DFW airfield, where it collided with a pair of 4-million US gallon (15,000 m³) water tanks, and exploded. Witnesses reported that the aircraft was in a right-wing down angle and the fuselage appeared to roll almost upside down prior to striking the water tanks.

Post-crash response[edit]

All airport fire and emergency units were alerted within one minute of the crash. 45 seconds after first being alerted, three airport fire trucks from the airport's fire station No. 3 arrived at the scene of the crash and began fighting the post-accident fire. Additional units from fire stations No. 1 and No. 3 arrived within 5 minutes, and despite high wind gusts and heavy rain, the fire was mostly under control within 10 minutes after the alert was sounded.[2]

The first paramedics arrived at the scene within 5 minutes of the crash, and triage stations were immediately established. In later testimony to NTSB officials, on-site EMTs estimated that without the on-scene triage procedures, at least half of the passengers who survived the crash would have died.[2] Most of the survivors of Flight 191 were located in the rear smoking section of the aircraft, which broke free from the main fuselage before the aircraft hit the water tanks. Authorities transported most of the survivors to Parkland Memorial Hospital.[1]

Two of the passengers who initially survived the impact died more than thirty days after the accident. On the ground, an employee of an airline who assisted in rescuing survivors was hospitalized overnight for chest and arm pains.[2]

The cockpit and passenger section forward of seat row 34 had been completely fragmented by impact with the water tanks and post-crash fires; all but eight of the occupants in this section were killed. The remainder of the surviving passengers and crew were in the rear cabin and tail section, which separated relatively intact and landed on its side in an open field. Overall, the disintegration of the Tristar was so extensive as to render the NTSB investigation quite difficult. Survivors reported that fire broke out in the cabin prior to hitting the tanks, and had begun spreading through the aircraft's interior, which is consistent with the right wing's collision with the light pole and fuel tank ignition. Some of the people in the tail section were unable to free themselves due to impact injuries and had to be extricated by rescue crews. Most survivors were also soaked with jet fuel, further adding to the difficulty of exiting the wreckage.

Delta Air Lines Flight 191 has the second-highest death toll of any aviation accident involving a Lockheed L-1011 anywhere in the world after Saudia Flight 163.


Numerous public safety agencies responded to the crash, including the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Irving Fire Department, the Irving Police Department and all available third watch personnel from the Dallas Police Department's Northwest Patrol Division and the Northeastern Sector of the Fort Worth Police Department's Patrol Division.

After a long investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board deemed the cause of the crash to be attributable to pilot error (for decision to fly through a thunderstorm), combined with extreme weather phenomena associated with microburst-induced wind shear.[2][3]

The NTSB attributed the accident to lack of the ability to detect microbursts aboard aircraft – the radar equipment aboard aircraft at the time was unable to detect wind changes, only thunderstorms. After the investigation, NASA researchers at Langley Research Center modified a Boeing 737-200 as a testbed for an on-board Doppler weather radar. The resultant airborne wind shear detection and alert system was installed on many commercial airliners in the United States after the FAA mandated that all commercial aircraft must have on-board windshear detection systems.[4]

The NTSB was also critical of the airport for failing to notify emergency services in surrounding municipalities in a timely manner. While the airport's on-site emergency services were notified almost immediately, the DFW Department of Public Safety (DPS) Communications Center did not begin notifying off-site emergency services until nearly 10 minutes after the crash, and did not finish its notifications until 45 minutes after the crash. During notifications, DPS also failed to request ambulances from the adjacent communities of Irving, Grapevine, and Hurst; however, Hurst responded with ambulances after personnel at its ambulance company overheard the airport crash report on a radio-frequency scanner. The NTSB concluded that the overall emergency response was effective due to the rapid response of on-airport personnel, but found "several problem areas" which under different circumstances "could affect adversely the medical treatment and survival of accident victims at the airport".[2]


Following the crash and the ensuing NTSB report, DFW's DPS made improvements to its post-crash notification system, including the introduction of an automated voice notification system to reduce notification times. In 1988, following the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 1141 while taking off from DFW, DPS completed its notification of nearby emergency services in 21 minutes; the NTSB described this as a "significant improvement" over response times after the Delta Flight 191 crash. Based on the improved response times, the NTSB issued a Safety Recommendation on January 9, 1990 calling for airport executives nationwide to consider the benefits of using automated voice notification systems for their emergency aid notifications.[5]

The crash of Delta Flight 191 resulted in the longest aviation trial in American history, lasting fourteen months during 1988 to 1989 and presided over by the Hon. David O. Belew. In re Air Crash at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Aug. 2, 1985, 720 F. Supp. 1258 (N.D. Tex. 1989) aff'd sub nom. In re Air Crash at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on August 2, 1985, 919 F.2d 1079 (5th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, sub nom. Connors v. United States, 502 U.S. 899 (1991). The trial featured the first use of computer graphic animation as substantive evidence in federal court, which is now routine, and became the American Bar Association Journal cover story “The Final Minutes of Delta 191,” ABA Journal (Dec. 1989).

The crash of Delta Flight 191 was the subject of a television movie called Fire and Rain.[6] The crash was also featured on an episode of When Weather Changed History and Why Planes Crash on The Weather Channel,[7] and the episode "Deadly Weather" of Survival in the Sky.[8] The TV series Mayday (Air Crash Investigation or Air Emergency) on Discovery Channel Canada and National Geographic dramatized the accident in the episode "Invisible Killer" (also known as "Slammed to the Ground").[9] The crash was also shown and discussed in a later Mayday episode about American Airlines Flight 1420, which also occurred during landing in bad weather conditions.

The flight number "191" has been associated with numerous crashes and incidents over the years, most notably American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979. It has even prompted some airlines to discontinue the use of this number. See Flight 191 (disambiguation) for more information.


In 2010, 25 years after the accident, a memorial was installed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport's Founders Plaza in Grapevine.[10]


Chart showing injuries to passengers
  • Don Estridge, known to the world as the father of the IBM PC, died aboard the flight along with his wife, Mary Ann,[9] two IBM summer interns, and six additional family members of IBM employees.[11]
  • The August 26, 1985 issue of Jet magazine (page 7) reported that Jean Hancock, sister of famed jazz musician Herbie Hancock, died aboard the flight as well.

In popular culture[edit]

Delta Air Lines Flight 191 was specifically mentioned in the movie Rain Man.

It was also covered by the television series Mayday in the fifth-season episode "Invisible Killer."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Magnuson, Ed (April 18, 2005). "Like a Wall of Napalm". TIME. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Aircraft Accident Report". National Transportation Safety Board. 
  3. ^ "Probable Cause of Delta Air Lines Flight 191 Crash". National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved August 27, 2006. 
  4. ^ Wallace, Lane E. ""The Best That We Can Do":Taming the Microburst Windshear". Airborne Trailblazer. NASA. Retrieved January 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ James L. Kolstead, Acting Chairman (January 9, 1990). "Safety Recommendation". National Transportation Safety Board. 
  6. ^ Fire and Rain at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ When Weather Changed History episode Delta 191 Crash at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Survival in the Sky episode Deadly Weather at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ a b "Slammed To The Ground." Mayday.
  10. ^ D/FW Airport to dedicate marker to 1985 crash of Delta Flight 191, (Archive) Dallas Morning News, Michael E. Young—writer, July 30, 2010. Retrieved July 30, 2010. Updated 26 November 2010. Retrieved on November 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Sanger, David E. "PHILIP ESTRIDGE DIES IN JET CRASH; GUIDED IBM PERSONAL COMPUTER." The New York Times. August 5, 1985. Retrieved on May 6, 2009.

External links[edit]