The aircraft involved in the accident in 1967,
while still in service with Air Canada
|Date||November 15, 1987|
|Summary||Loss of control due to atmospheric icing|
and pilot error
|Site||Stapleton International Airport, Denver, Colorado, U.S.|
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-9-14|
|Flight origin||Denver–Stapleton Int'l Airport (DEN/KDEN)|
|Fatalities||28 (25 passengers, 3 crew)|
Continental Airlines Flight 1713 was a commercial airline flight that crashed while taking off in a snowstorm from Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado on November 15, 1987. The Douglas DC-9 was operated by Continental Airlines and was a scheduled flight to Boise, Idaho. Twenty-five passengers and three crew members died in the crash.:20
Flight 1713 was operated using a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-14, a twin-engine, narrow-body jet airliner with the registration number N626TX.:7 The aircraft was equipped with two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7B engines.:7 It was originally delivered to Air Canada in 1966, and sold to Continental in 1982.:7 In 21 years of service, it had accumulated over 52,400 flight hours and over 61,800 cycles.:7
The captain was 43-year-old Frank B. Zvonek Jr., who had been working with Continental Airlines since 1969. He had 12,125 hours of flight experience, but only 166 hours on the DC-9.:48 He had been upgraded to captain less than three weeks earlier.
The first officer was 26-year-old Lee Edward Bruecher, hired by Continental four months earlier; he had previously flown for Rio Airways, and passed his initial proficiency check in the DC-9 in mid-September. He had 3,186 flight hours, but only 36 hours on the DC-9, the extent of his turbojet experience, and had not flown for 24 days. Bruecher was the pilot flying at the time of the accident.:48
Three flight attendants were on board: 33-year-old Diana Mechling, 35-year-old Kelly Engelhardt, and 27-year-old Chris Metz.
At the time of the accident on Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service was reporting moderate wet snow at Stapleton International Airport.:8 The heaviest snowfall rate occurred between 13:10 and 14:20 MST, with peak snowfall rate occurring around 13:50.:8
Continental Airlines Flight 1713 was scheduled to depart Denver at 12:25, but many flights out of Denver that day were delayed by inclement weather. At 13:03, Flight 1713 taxied from its gate to the de-icing pad; air traffic controllers were not aware that Flight 1713 had departed the gate because the flight crew did so without requesting taxi clearance.:3 De-icing was completed at 13:46.:1–2
At 13:51, Flight 1713 contacted the clearance delivery controller for permission to "taxi from the ice pad." The clearance delivery controller, believing that Flight 1713 was still at the gate and requesting to proceed to de-icing, instructed the flight to switch to ground controller frequency.:2 Ground controllers then cleared Flight 1713 to taxi to the de-icing pad.:2 Flight 1713, having previously taxied to the de-ice pad of their own accord, chose to interpret this new clearance to mean they could now taxi from the de-ice pad to hold at the end of runway 35L and await takeoff clearance.:2
At 14:05, Flight 1713 was lined up on the number one position at the north end of the runway, and the crew was ready for take off.:3 Not kept properly informed of Flight 1713’s position, the air traffic controllers tried repeatedly to have a different plane takeoff, leaving Flight 1713 standing in the falling snow for several minutes. Flight 1713 then notified air traffic controllers that they were holding at the start of the runway and awaiting takeoff instructions.:3
Flight 1713 was cleared for takeoff at 14:14.:3 As the plane was taking off, the pilot in control over-rotated; the aircraft descended and the left wing struck the ground, causing the wing to separate. A fuel-fed flash fire ignited in the left wing shortly after it struck the ground, causing a "fireball" inside the cabin.:3 The left side of the plane and cockpit struck the ground next and the plane continued rolling, inverted. As the plane skidded, the left side was tilted over and the tail was inverted; this action caused the middle part of the plane to compress and crush many of the passengers on board.:20
A total of 25 passengers and 3 crew members died due to the crash; the final two fatalities succumbed while hospitalized. The captain and first officer, one flight attendant, and 11 passengers died from blunt trauma.:20 In addition, 5 passengers died of head injuries secondary to blunt trauma, and 9 passengers died of asphyxia.:20 The remaining 52 passengers and 2 flight attendants survived.:20 Of the surviving passengers, 25 received minor injuries and 27 received serious injuries.:4 Fitzsimons Army Medical Center sent its personnel to assist in the triage of passengers, and ten hospitals treated the survivors.
In July 1988, Continental Airlines filed a report with the NTSB positing the causes of the crash as wake turbulence, poor snow plowing on the runway and errors by air traffic controllers. However, the NTSB investigated the wake-turbulence theory and concluded that wake turbulence from the preceding flight would not have affected Flight 1713.:44
During the investigation, the crew's little experience on the DC-9 was brought into question. Investigators also discovered that prior to being hired by Continental, Bruecher had been dismissed by another airline after failing on three occasions to pass a flight exam. Investigators likewise determined that first officer Bruecher was at the controls at the time of the accident.
Investigators determined that 27 minutes elapsed between the conclusion of de-icing and Flight 1713's attempt to take off, seven minutes longer than should have been allowed to elapse before takeoff. The NTSB concluded that the wing surface became contaminated by a build-up of ice on the wings of Flight 1713 prior to departure, based on reports from surviving passengers that they had seen "patches" of ice on the wing after deicing was complete.:33 Investigators also concluded that enough wet snow landed on Flight 1713 after deicing was complete to melt and dilute the deicing fluid, which allowed ice to reform on the wings.:33 According to the aircraft's manufacturer, even a modest amount of ice contamination on the upper wing could impair the lifting performance of the wings and lead to loss of roll and pitch control.:33–34 Based on this, the NTSB concluded that a small amount of ice on the wings had caused Flight 1713 to have significant controllability problems.:35
The NTSB also determined that the first officer's poor performance during takeoff had likely contributed to his loss of control of the airplane.:36 The first officer rotated the airplane at more than 6 degrees per second, or twice the recommended rate.:36 Combined with the effects of ice on the wing, the high climb rate caused the plane's left wing to stall and the plane to begin rolling over.:36 Flight 1713 was Bruecher's first flight after a 24-day absence from flight duties, and the NTSB concluded that this prolonged absence had eroded the newly hired first officer's retention of his recent training, which contributed to his poor takeoff performance.:37
On September 27, 1988, the NTSB published a final report on its investigation into the crash, attributing the accident to the captain's failure to have the plane de-iced a second time, the first officer's poor takeoff performance, confusion between the pilots and air traffic controllers which contributed to delays, compounded by a cockpit crew where both pilots were relatively inexperienced on the aircraft type.:ii Specifically, the NTSB concluded:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain's failure to have the airplane deiced a second time after a delay before takeoff that led to upper wing surface contamination and a loss of control during rapid takeoff rotation by the first officer. Contributing to the accident were the absence of regulatory or management controls governing operations by newly qualified flight crew members and the confusion that existed between the flightcrew members and air traffic controllers that led to the delay in departure.:44
After the crash, Continental Airlines reiterated its procedures for handling deicing and developed a computerized assignment program that would keep pilots with less than 100 hours flying time in type from being assigned to the same flight.
Nine months after the crash of Flight 1713, Delta Air Lines Flight 1141 crashed in Dallas. When the NTSB released its report on Flight 1713, it specifically mentioned the fact that "almost 3 minutes of nonpertinent social conversation" had occurred before take-off.:39 When the NTSB later issued its report on Delta 1141, it found that the Delta crew had also engaged in nonpertinent conversation, including a discussion of the cockpit voice recorder from the crash of Continental 1713. The report on Delta 1141 concluded, amongst other causes, that the Dallas crash was caused by that crews’ nonpertinent conversation contributing to their failure to extend that aircraft's flaps and slats to proper take-off configuration.:72–74, 93
Stapleton was replaced by Denver International Airport in 1995; it has since been decommissioned and the property redeveloped as a retail and residential neighborhood. Continental merged with UAL Corporation (the parent company of United Airlines) via a stock swap in 2010, and the integration was completed in 2012.
In popular culture
The crash was the subject of episode 10, season 18 of Mayday, "Dead of Winter"
- "Continental Airlines, Inc., Flight 1713, McDonnell Douglas DC-9-14, N626TX, Stapleton International Airport, Denver, Colorado, November 15, 1987" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. September 27, 1988. NTSB/AAR-88/09. Retrieved September 1, 2016. Cite journal requires
- "26 killed in crash of jetliner". Reading Eagle. (Pennsylvania). November 16, 1987. p. 1.
- "Doomed jet veered, tilted". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. November 16, 1987. p. A1.
- "Jetliner flips on runway; 26 killed". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. November 16, 1987. p. 1A.
- Mason, K.C. (November 16, 1987). "Clues sought in disaster". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. p. A1.
- Jones, Tamara; Malnic, Eric (November 17, 1987). "Survivors recount horror; probe begins". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (Los Angeles Times). p. 1A.
- "Continental pilot, co-pilot were inexperienced". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (Washington Post). November 18, 1987. p. 7A.
- "Denver plane crash kills 26". Chicago Tribune. November 16, 1987. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
- Knudson, Thomas J. (November 16, 1987). "Plane Crashes in Snow at Denver; 26 of the 82 Aboard Are Killed". New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
- "Rear Passengers Survived Air Crash". New York Times. Associated Press. November 27, 1987. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "Survivors list". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. November 16, 1987. p. A4.
- "Inquiry Into Denver Jet Crash Looks at Possible Ice Buildup". New York Times. Associated Press. March 9, 1988. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "Rescue Coordinator Testifies In Continental Crash Hearing". New York Times. Associated Press. March 10, 1988. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "Airline Says Several Errors Caused Crash Fatal to 28". New York Times. Associated Press. August 18, 1988. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "U.S. Panel Lays Denver Air Crash To Failure to De-ice Second Time". New York Times. Associated Press. September 28, 1988. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "Jet in Denver 'waited too long'". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). Associated Press. September 28, 1988. p. A3.
- "Town still dealing with air crash". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. September 28, 1987. p. B1.
- Ott, James (October 3, 1988). "NTSB Finds Inadequate Oversight Of New Pilots' Flight Operations". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- "Pilot in Denver Air Crash Had Failed 3 Flight Exams". Los Angeles Times. September 27, 1988. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- http://www.aviationexplorer.com/audio/delta_1141.wav Cockpit Voice Recording from Delta Air Lines Flight 1141
- "Aircraft Accident Report: Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Boeing 727-232, N473DA; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Texas; August 31, 1988" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. September 26, 1989. AAR-89/04. Retrieved January 18, 2016. Cite journal requires
- Quiroga, Rodrigo (2012). "Chapter 7". Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain. MIT Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 9780262304955.