When 58 people died in plane crash on airport approach

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When 58 people died in a plane crash on airport approach

Fuselage of the American Airlines commercial aircraft after slamming into the Northern Kentucky hillside

American Airlines Flight 383 was a nonstop flight from New York City to Boone County KY on November 8, 1965.

The aircraft was a Boeing 727 with 57 passengers, and 5 crew on board.

The aircraft crashed into the Constance hillside in Boone County on its final approach to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Only three passengers and one flight attendant survived the crash

Events leading to the crash

The flight was delayed for 20 minutes in New York.

Until the landing attempt, the flight from New York to Cincinnati was uneventful. At 6:45 pm Eastern Standard Time, the crew contacted the airline via ARINC company radio to report a 7:05 pm estimated time of arrival at Cincinnati.

The weather was fine near the airport except for thunder clouds developing northwest of the airport across the Ohio River valley.

At 6:57 pm, Flight 383 was cleared by the approach controller for a visual approach to Cincinnati's runway 18, and was advised of precipitation just west of the airport.

The aircraft approached the airport from the southeast and turned its heading to north to cross the Ohio River.

It turned west after crossing to the northern shore of the Ohio River, intending to make a final turn to southeast after crossing the Ohio River (which runs from northwest to southeast) again to the southern shore of the river. After that final turn, the aircraft would line up with the runway 18 of the airport to make the final approach.

At 6:58 pm, the approach controller transferred Flight 383 to the Cincinnati tower frequency. At 6:59 pm, Flight 383 received clearance from the tower controller to land on runway 18.

Crash into Constance hillside

The aircraft flew into thick cloud and thunderstorm after flying into the northwest of the airport.

It descended more than it should have, without either pilot in the cockpit noticing.

The airport is situated at an elevation of 853 feet and the aircraft had descended to the level of 553 ft above the airport while it was still about 5 mi northeast of the airport.

It descended to just 3 ft (per altimeter) above the airport while it was about 3 nm north of the airport.

Its correct altitude should have been just below 1,000 ft at that time.

The plane continued its descent into the Ohio River valley while crossing the river back to the southern shore.

When it made its last turn to the southeast to line up with the runway, it flew into the wooded slopes of the valley 3 km north of the runway threshold in poor visibility, at an altitude of 225' below the runway's elevation. It then exploded and was engulfed in flames.

Of the 62 people on board the aircraft, only four people (one flight attendant and three passengers) survived.

The investigation

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated the accident.

It was later believed that the following factors might have contributed to the crash:
  • Lights from the houses in the Ohio River valley, located 400 feet (120 m) below the altitude of the airport, may have conveyed an illusion of runway lights.
  • The flight crew may have been confused about their true altitude, due to misinterpretation of the aircraft's drum-type altimeter after descending through 0 feet (relative to the airport altitude), or they may have had their hands full controlling the plane in severe weather and simply failed to notice the readings on the altimeter.
  • A late departure from New York and the deteriorating weather at Cincinnati may have put pressure on the flight crew.
  • Despite the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the flight crew chose to make a visual approach to the runway.

    The aftermath

    Two years after the crash of Flight 383, TWA Flight 128 crashed on the same hill while on approach to Cincinnati under poor visibility conditions. In that one, 70 people died.

    As a result, the airport constructed more aviation lights at the edge of the hillside for better navigation on the final approach.

    Source: Wikipedia, using numerous sources for its report