Survivors unlikely in ValuJet crash
May 11, 1996
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EDT
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A ValuJet DC-9 carrying 109 people from Miami to Atlanta crashed in the Florida Everglades shortly after takeoff Saturday afternoon. Flight 592 was about 100 miles west of Miami International Airport when the pilot reported that there was smoke in the cockpit.
Pilot eyewitness describes crash
(1.7M QuickTime movie)
There was no immediate confirmation of casualties, but airport spokesperson Lauren Gail said, "We don't believe there are any survivors."
The aircraft was believed to have been turning around to return to the airport when radar contact was lost. The FAA said that the flight was in the air for eight minutes.
Rescue teams found a scorched area in the Everglades and scattered debris, possibly from the plane. They were reaching the site by airboat in order to offer triage should any survivors be found. Local television stations reported that civilians were donating their airboats to speed up the rescue effort.
The FAA said there were 104 passengers and five crew members on board.
A private pilot flying in the Everglades area witnessed the crash. "Nothing could have survived that," Daniel Muelhaupt told CNN. "It was like a 75 degree bank angle going down."
He said he thought that the plane was going through maneuvers until he realized that it was a jet. "When it hit the ground, the water and dirt flew up," he said. "The wreckage looked like if you take your garbage and throw it on the ground." (539K AIFF sound or 539K WAV sound)
Aerial pictures showed what appeared to be debris strewn over a marshy region of the Everglades. The pictures showed no signs of a fuselage or larger aircraft pieces.
Crash follows a string of minor problems
ValuJet, based in Atlanta, began operations in October 1993. The airline has experienced various problems in the past, but no fatalities.
In January 1996, a ValuJet DC-9 got stuck in mud at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, and the passengers had to be bused back to a terminal. In the same month, another ValuJet DC-9 slid into a snowbank after landing at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Its skid closed the airport for nearly three hours.
And in June 1995, a fire destroyed a ValuJet DC-9 on a runway at Atlanta. One flight attendant was burned and minor injuries were reported among the 57 passengers and five crew members who were evacuated.
The ValuJet fire prompted an investigation of aircraft engines that ValuJet purchased from a Turkish airline. However, flight 592 was equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines that did not come from Turkey.
Although Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said in April that ValuJet was a safe airline, Christy Williams of the FAA said Saturday that a "special emphasis inspection" of ValuJet was ongoing. This type of inspection singles out a specific air carrier because of concerns over its operating procedure and the FAA assigns more inspectors to monitor it.
"The irony is that that doesn't create an unsafe situation. It actually creates a safe situation because they're looking at the aircraft and the maintenance records a little more carefully," said former FAA chief Michael Goldfarb. If the inspectors had any doubts about the flight's safety, he said, it would have been grounded.
Family members of passengers on the flight may call ValuJet at 1-800-486-4346 for information.
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