TWA Flight 514
A Trans World Airlines Boeing 727-200, similar to the one involved
|Date||December 1, 1974|
11:09:22 am EST
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain due to pilot error and ATC error|
Clarke County, Virginia, U.S.
|Aircraft type||Boeing 727-231|
|Operator||Trans World Airlines|
|Flight origin||Indianapolis, Indiana|
|Destination||Washington Dulles International Airport|
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Trans World Airlines Flight 514, registration N54328, was a Boeing 727-231 en route from Indianapolis, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio, to Washington Dulles International that crashed into Mount Weather, Virginia, on Sunday, December 1, 1974. All 92 aboard, 85 passengers and seven crew members, were killed. In stormy conditions late in the morning, the aircraft was in controlled flight and impacted a low mountain about thirty miles (50 km) northwest of its revised destination.
The flight was scheduled for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but was diverted to Dulles when high crosswinds, east at 28 knots (32 mph; 52 km/h) and gusting to 49 knots (56 mph; 91 km/h), prevented safe operations on the main north-south runway at Washington National. The flight was being vectored for a non-precision instrument approach to runway 12 at Dulles. Air traffic controllers cleared the flight down to 7,000 feet (2,130 m) before clearing them for the approach while not on a published segment.
The jetliner began a descent to 1,800 feet (550 m), shown on the first checkpoint for the published approach. The cockpit voice recorder later indicated there was some confusion in the cockpit over whether they were still under a radar-controlled approach segment which would allow them to descend safely. After reaching 1,800 feet (550 m) there were some 100-to-200-foot (30 to 60 m) altitude deviations which the flight crew discussed as encountering heavy downdrafts and reduced visibility in snow.
The plane impacted the west slope of Mount Weather at 1,670 feet (510 m) above sea level at approximately 230 knots (265 mph; 425 km/h). The wreckage was contained within an area about 900 by 200 feet (275 by 60 m). The evidence of first impact were trees sheared off about 70 feet (20 m) above the ground; the elevation at the base of the trees was 1,650 feet (505 m).
The wreckage path was oriented along a line 118 degrees magnetic. Calculations indicated that the left wing went down about six degrees as the aircraft passed through the trees and the aircraft was descending at an angle of about one degree. After about five hundred feet (150 m) of travel through the trees, it struck a rock outcropping at an elevation of about 1,675 feet (510 m). Numerous heavy components of the aircraft were thrown forward of the outcropping, and numerous intense post-impact fires broke out which were later extinguished. The mountain's summit is at 1,754 feet (535 m) above sea level.
The accident investigation board was split in its decision as to whether the flight crew or Air Traffic Control were responsible. The majority absolved the controllers as the plane was not on a published approach segment; the dissenting opinion was that the flight had been radar vectored. Terminology between pilots and controllers differed without either group being aware of the discrepancy. It was common practice at the time for controllers to release a flight to its own navigation with "Cleared for the approach," and flight crews commonly believed that was also authorization to descend to the altitude at which the final segment of the approach began. No clear indication had been given by controllers to Flight 514 that they were no longer on a radar vector segment and therefore responsible for their own navigation. Procedures were clarified after this accident. Controllers now state, "Maintain (specified altitude) until established on a portion of the approach," and pilots now understand that previously assigned altitudes prevail until an altitude change is authorized on the published approach segment the aircraft is currently flying. Ground proximity detection equipment was also mandated for the airlines.
During the NTSB investigation, it was discovered that a United Airlines flight had very narrowly escaped the same fate during the same approach and at the same location only six weeks prior.
The flight is also of note in that the accident drew undesired attention to the Mount Weather facility, which was the linchpin of plans implemented by the federal government to ensure continuity in the event of a nuclear war. The crash did not damage the facility, since most of its features were underground. Only its underground main phone line was severed, with service to the complex being restored by C&P Telephone within 2½ hours after the crash.
The crash, its aftermath, and its repercussions are the subject of the 1977 book Sound of Impact: The Legacy of TWA Flight 514 by Adam Shaw. TWA Flight 514 is also mentioned in the closing of the second chapter of Mark Oliver Everett's book Things the Grandchildren Should Know and in F. Lee Bailey's book Cleared for Approach: In Defense of Flying. In 2015, a documentary entitled Diverted: TWA 514 was released.
Congressman-elect Andy Jacobs of Indiana was almost on the flight, but chose not to pay the $20 seat upgrade charge and took another flight to Washington. After losing his seat in 1972, Jacobs had recently won it back; a member of his staff was killed on the flight. Retired Brigadier General Roscoe Cartwright, one of the U.S. Army's first black generals, and his wife were also on the flight.
- "Plane crash in Va. kills 92". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. December 2, 1974. p. 1.
- "Virginia jet crash kills 92". Chicago Tribune. December 2, 1974. p. 1, sec. 1.
- Jones, Edward (December 2, 1974). "Weather hampers air crash probe". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). p. 1.
- "Search hampered for jet victims". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. December 2, 1974. p. 2.
- "Storm hampers grim search". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. December 2, 1974. p. 3A.
- Perkins, Jay (January 22, 1976). "Misunderstanding blamed for crash near Dulles". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. p. 10.
- Gay, Lance (December 4, 1974). "Jet crash pinpointed top-secret base". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (Washington Star-News). p. 9A.
- "In a Place that Doesn't Exist - The Crash of TWA Flight 514". Check-Six.com. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
- Mary Stortstrom (November 16, 2015). "Documentary tells the story of TWA Flight 514". The Journal. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
- "Football charter jet crashes, 3 killed". Milwaukee Journal. UPI. December 2, 1974. p. 2.
- Sound of Impact: The Legacy of TWA Flight 514, Adam Shaw (Viking Press, 1977)
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- NTSB report
- Civil Defense Doomsday Hideaway, Ted Gup. TIME Magazine, August 10, 1992, pp. 32–39.
- Documentary produced in 2015 by WJLA-TV/Washington