Miracle at Denver: Continental Flight 1404

On the night of twentieth December 2008, a Continental Airways Boeing 737 veered off the runway forty-one seconds after beginning the takeoff roll earlier than hitting an embankment and bursting into flames, all passengers survived.

Flight Particulars

On the twentieth of December 2008, a Continental Airways Boeing 737-500 with registration N18611 was scheduled to function flight 1404 from Denver to Houston. Nonetheless, whereas it was accelerating to takeoff from Denver’s runway 34R, it veered left off the runway about 2,600 toes from the method finish, skidded throughout the taxiway WC and crashed in a deep ravine. The plane was nonetheless transferring at a velocity of about 90 knots when electrical energy was misplaced.

Flight 1404 was below the command of 50-year-old Captain David Butler. He had about 13,100 hours in his logbook, together with about 6,300 hours within the Boeing 737. Captain Butler was accompanied by his 34-year-old first officer, Chad Levang who had about 8,000 flight hours together with about 1,500 hours on kind.

On the time of the accident, the visible meteorological circumstances at Denver Worldwide prevailed, with robust and gusty winds out of the west. The flight was being operated below an instrument flight guidelines flight plan. As ice and snow had been seen on the ramp, the captain determined to activate the engine and wing anti-ice programs whereas pushing again. Nonetheless, the captain determined to de-select the anti-ice programs after the runway seemed to be away from snow and ice earlier than beginning the takeoff roll.

Earlier than clearing the plane for takeoff, the tower controller knowledgeable the pilots that the wind is from 270° at 27 knots. Nonetheless, the pilots had been shocked with the controller’s wind report because it was larger than the wind reported within the ATIS. Regardless, because the wind was nonetheless inside Continental’s crosswind pointers of 33 knots, the captain began the takeoff roll and because the plane began to speed up for takeoff, it all of a sudden yawed to the left as if it was hit by an enormous gust of wind. The captain tried to maintain the plane aligned with the runway centerline by utilizing a full proper rudder, however the plane continued to yaw 30 to 45 levels to the left earlier than veering off the runway. The plane ultimately got here to relaxation in a subject between runways 34R and 34L.

Aerial {photograph} exhibiting the tire skid marks. Picture: NTSB

Because the plane veered off the runway, the captain tried to deploy the thrust reversers. Nonetheless, because of the uneven floor, he failed to take action and the plane hit a steep ridge, sending it airborne for some time earlier than plunging again into the bottom. On plunging, the precise engine caught fireplace and the hearth unfold to the fuselage.

Stopping a number of hundred yards off the runway, firefighters arrived on the scene instantly, because the plane got here to relaxation close to one of many airport’s 4 firehouses. When the firefighters arrived on the scene, a lot of the proper facet of the plane was on fireplace, whereas passengers had been evacuating from the left facet of the plane, being assisted by flight attendants. Inside 90 seconds, all 110 passengers and 5 crew members evacuated the plane, regardless of a fireplace that made proper facet exits unusable, melted overhead bins and triggered home windows to soften and pop.

Aerial {photograph} of the tire tracks and floor scars. Picture: NTSB

Accidents and Plane Injury

Throughout the incident, the captain and 5 of the passengers had been severely injured; the primary officer, two cabin crew members, and 38 passengers acquired minor accidents whereas one of many cabin crew members and 67 passengers (3 of whom had been lap-held youngsters) left the scene unhurt.

Moreover, the plane was considerably broken. The fuselage was resting on the bottom and was damaged into two (ahead and aft) sections as seen within the footage. The fitting facet of the fuselage sustained substantial fireplace harm, probably the most in depth of which occurred within the centre part close to the wing and engine space. A number of the parts of the fuselage on this space had been considerably broken by the hearth or lacking fully. The submit crash fireplace was largely positioned on the precise facet of the plane.

Picture through Wikipedia

A submit accident investigation discovered that each of the principle touchdown gear assemblies had separated from the airframe. Furthermore, the nostril touchdown gear was discovered folded aft and impacted into the decrease fuselage. Regardless of sustaining important harm, each wings had been largely intact and remained hooked up to the airframe. The left engine had separated from the left wing.

Picture through Wikipedia

NTSB Investigation and Findings

Following the incident, the Nationwide Transportation Security Board (NTSB) together with different related events launched a radical investigation into the prevalence, together with the on-site investigation at Denver Worldwide Airport.

A radical investigation of the meteorological circumstances on the time of the incident revealed that mountain wave circumstances had been current at the moment, which resulted in robust westerly winds and really localized, intermittent wind gusts as excessive as 45 knots that crossed the plane’s path through the takeoff floor roll.

Distance travelled by Flight 1404

1,900 toes down the runway: Foremost touchdown gear began to indicate rubber on the runway
2,000 toes down the runway: Nostril gear began to indicate rubber on the runway
2,650 toes down the runway: The airplane departed off the runway
2,000 toes: Distance travelled from when the plane left the runway to its stopping level

The NTSB officers acknowledged that the possible reason behind this accident was the captain’s cessation of proper rudder enter, which was wanted to maintain the plane aligned to the runway centreline, about 4 seconds earlier than the tour when the plane encountered a powerful and gusty crosswind.

Aerial {photograph} of the plane wreckage. Picture: NTSB

The captain’s motion was pointed as a trigger for the delayed rejected takeoff. The NTSB investigation concluded that the captain’s initiation of a rejected takeoff was delayed by about 2 to 4 seconds as a result of he was occupied with the nosewheel steering tiller and proper management wheel enter, each of which had been ineffective and inappropriate for steering the plane. The report additional clarified that the touchdown gear didn’t trigger any issues.

Contributing to the accident had been the next elements:

  • An ATC system that didn’t require or facilitate the dissemination of key, obtainable wind data to the air visitors controllers and pilots.
  • Insufficient crosswind coaching within the airline business resulting from poor simulator wind gust modelling.

In response to the NTSB report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requested the airline business to regulate the crosswind coaching protocols for pilots. Moreover, the FAA required ATCs to supply a number of sources of wind data, slightly than averages, to pilots.


Regardless of the dearth of widespread recognition, the three flight attendants (Al Felipe, Pamela Howard and Regina Ressler) have been honoured recurrently by different flight attendants and by their unions. On the tenth anniversary of flight 1404, the Affiliation of Flight Attendants (AFA) remembered the heroics of the trio.

“Al, Pam, and Regina represented one of the best of what flight attendants do as aviation’s first responders.”

AFA President Sara Nelson.

“In flight, all the things can change immediately, and flight attendants should be prepared for that. These flight attendants reacted inside seconds. At one level, certainly one of them was holding the door body up because it was melting, in an effort to get the final passengers off the airplane. Afterward, their keys burned up and so they couldn’t go house. However their story remains to be nearly untold,” Nelson stated.

Continental Flight 1404 Flight Attendants. Picture through AFA

“Now we have been recognizing them yearly, and ten years is a milestone. Take a look at how protected aviation has been – Al, Pam and Regina are a part of that security report in a heroic approach. On this accident, which was simply earlier than the vacations, folks might have very simply misplaced their lives.”

Alongside the three flight attendants, the off-duty pilot, Richard Lowe, was additionally praised for his actions as he made a number of journeys out and in of the wreckage to make sure everybody was safely out of the plane. Lowe was later awarded the Airman’s Medal for his actions.

This incident is famous as probably the most critical incident in Denver Worldwide Airport’s historical past.

Sources: NTSB, Forbes, Air Crash Investigation (Function Picture)


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