Since I fly Southwest a bit, this story has an interesting hook for me (read to the end to see it). I remember this "as clear as day". It was May 24, 1988, and I was home from LSU for summer break.
Flying a 737-300 that was only 3 weeks old, TACA Flight 110 took off for a normal, scheduled flight from Belize City, Belize to New Orleans. On approach to NOLA, it came through some very heavy (but pretty typical for NOLA) thunderstorms.
On it's final descent, in the midst of the rain, it lost power in both engines. The pilots got the engines to restart, but then they immediately overheated,shutdown and would not restart again. Either in the paper or on TV, I remember an interview with the pilot where he said that you don't train overly much for "no power" landings because you don't have many options - just do your best to find a flat space to put down.
Consulting with Air Traffice Control, the pilots were trying to make it to Lake Pontchartrain or Lake Bourne. In the map, A is the New Orleans Airport (Moisant International Aiport at the time, now Louis Armstrong International Airport. And yes, I see it's in Kenner, not New Orleans - be quite and go sit down.) B is the Industrial Canal. [MAP NOTE: The I510 interstate listed on the map did not exist at the time.]
Now on final (only?) approach, the pilots were willing the aircraft to make it to the water. And then (as I remember) the pilot said that the fog and clouds lifted and he saw the best thing he'd ever seen.
Here's some transcripts I found on the Internets: (updated)
I don't think that I will make it, I don't have any power on the engines here sir, so I guess we having to go down, we have to go down, we declare emergency....
TACA 110, there is the interstate highway directly ahead of you....
I don't believe we gonna be able to make it there sir, we're at 2,000 and we're losing altitude.... The only thing I do right now is make a 360 and I'll land over the water sir. [cpw- indicates he's shooting for the Industrial Canal]
TACA 110, I show your altitude now 700 feet.
The controller continued, "The controller working the aircraft suggested Lakefront Airport. The 6,600' runway there would be suitably long enough. We advised Lakefront to suspend any pattern operations & standby for an emergency arrival in the form of an air carrier.
TACA's glide ratio was terrible due to the weather they were flying through. Options we discussed in the TRACON included a possible emergency landing on the I-10 (1 straight mile for every 5 miles of highway), ditching in Lake Bourne, or ditching in Lake Ponchartrain. Given the aircraft's position, deteriorating glide ratio, and uncertainty of landing safely on the highway, the pilot opted for vectors to Lake Ponchartrain. The controller issued the heading. The reported cloud ceilings at Lakefront were 1,700' overcast. The aircraft was northwest-bound when it passed over the Industrial Canal. At 1,600' we lost the transponder & the aircraft made a hard turn to the left.
To a man we all thought that they had stalled out & spun in. There was no ELT signal."
The controller continued, "The two controllers working were relieved from position by myself & another controller. The other fellow took the Radar positions working the east side of the approach control airspace; I took the west airspace & our then non-radar sector. At that point we had no idea of whether the aircraft made it or not. Coast Guard helicopters were dispatched from NBG & were en-route to the area."
The controller continued, "But here's how we found the aircraft. Lakefront called for an IFR release off Runway 36L. It was a King Air filed IFR for points east. Normally the release would be runway heading and climbing to 2,000'. I suggested we issue the departure a right turn to 90 degrees & climb only to 1,500'. That was our Minimum Vectoring Altitude & it would most likely keep the King Air below the cloud bases. We solicited the King Air's help, naturally they were more than happy to assist.
They were just west of the Michoud Facility when they reported the B737 intact on the ground at the plant.
To say we were greatly relieved is an understatement."
It had less than 90 hours total time on the plane. It was for all, intents and purposes, brand new."
The controller continued, "After more than 2 decades of air traffic control I still say this is the most splendid piece of air traffic teamwork and the most incredible piece of flying I've ever been witness to or heard of.
The flight crew had mere seconds to assess the situation as to whether its the lake of the field. They nailed it."
The "best thing he'd ever seen." was The Michoud Assemly Facility's old World War II-era runway. Actually, it was just a grassy area where the runway used to be. You can vaguely see on the the map what might have been the runway outline.
Investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the engines had failed "as a result of an inflight encounter with an area of very heavy rain and hail. A contributing cause of the incident was the inadequate design of the engines and the FAA water ingestion certification standards which did not reflect the waterfall rates that can be expected in moderate or higher intensity thunderstorms."
Initially, it was planned to remove the wings and transport the airplane to a repair facility by barge, but Boeing engineers and test pilots decided to perform an engine change on site and to take off from the grass. The 737 was flown to the New Orleans International Airport where other maintenance work was performed.
The rest of the story: The 737 was recovered and is still flying today for Southwest Airlines. So the next time you get on a Southwest 737, check and see if it's a 737-300. You never know....
Craig Wiseman February 20th, 2009 06:36:31 AM