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Today is the 40th anniversary of the 14th Street Bridge plane crash that killed 78 people

The front page of the Washington Post Jan. 14, 1982 with the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 (Image via Washington Post)

Today (Jan. 13) is the 40th anniversary of Air Florida Flight 90 crashing into the 14th Street Bridge, a tragedy that killed 78 people.

It was a snowy January day in 1982, with a number of flights being delayed by the winter weather and National Airport even closing for a period of time. After a nearly two-hour delay, Air Florida Flight 90 took off right before 4 p.m., but after only getting 350 feet in the air, it came right down — a victim of pilot error and ice buildup.

The aircraft carrying 79 people crashed into the barrier wall of the northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge, between Arlington and D.C. It struck seven occupied vehicles and plunged into the icy Potomac River below.

The crash killed 78 people in all, including four people on the ground, with another nine people injured. Five people onboard the plane survived.

Arlington firefighters were among the first on scene, navigating treacherous road conditions and heavy traffic en route to assist with the rescue operation.

There were heroes, like Gene Windsor, Lenny Skutnik and Roger Olian, onlookers who jumped into the cold waters to save drowning passengers.

Arland D. Williams Jr. was a passenger himself who survived the initial crash and needed saving, but kept handing the rope to others to save themselves before him. By the time, a rescue helicopter came back to save that one last person, Williams, he had fallen into the Potomac and drowned.

He, too, was hailed as a hero by President Ronald Reagan. When the northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge was repaired and reopened in 1985, the bridge connecting D.C. to Arlington was renamed the “Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge” in his honor.

WTOP spoke recently with one of its reporters who was covering the story that day, Dave Statter. Rhetorically, Statter questioned if a crash of this magnitude and in such a public setting happened today, would there have been heroes of this nature?

“Would people be so focused on getting those images, and so detached, that we wouldn’t have a Lenny Skutnik or Roger Olian, jumping in the river, trying to save those passengers?” Statter asked.

Some good did come out of unspeakable tragedy. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was likely caused by bad anti-icing practices and operations. This led to dramatic improvement in how airplanes are operated in cold and icy weather, including new and innovative technology used to de-ice planes.

In an almost-unbelievable cruel twist, another terrible accident happened in D.C. that day. Less than 30 minutes after the Flight 90 crash and only a few miles away, a Metro train derailed killing three people and injuring 25 more.

The two incidents shared the front page of the Washington Post the next morning.

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It is the decision of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) to implement the Proposed Action: the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update (Pentagon Master Plan) as the framework to guide future decisions regarding land use and infrastructure at the Pentagon site and Mark Center. The Pentagon Master Plan aims to provide an update to the existing conditions at the Pentagon and Mark Center and presents projects and revisions to land use categorizations that will address the specific needs to reduce the Pentagon’s environmental impacts and advance sustainability, security, and resilience. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review has been completed through preparation of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate environmental impacts arising from implementation of the projects. WHS has concluded that no significant impacts to the human or natural environment will result from implementation of any projects, and recognized negative effects will be reduced by adherence to standard best management practices, applicable permit and consultation conditions, and standard operating procedures. This decision is further documented in the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) signed on March 20, 2024.

This notice announces the availability of the FONSI to implement the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update.

For further information and to request a copy of the Final EA or FONSI, please contact Brian King, Environmental and Sustainability Program Manager, WHS/Facilities Services Directorate/Standards and Compliance Division/Environmental and Sustainability Branch; (703-614-3658 or [email protected]). Please include “Pentagon Master Plan Final EA and FONSI” in the subject line.

Submit your own Announcement here.

The 3rd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference will feature Thomas Silverstein, renowned Fair Housing expert and Associate Director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Come hear the latest news about fair housing enforcement, policy, and programs within Arlington County, Virginia, and across the country! Our expert panelists and guest speakers include fair housing advocates, elected officials, and government officials tasked with advancing housing equity at the local, state, and federal level.

Arlington has made substantial strides in advancing housing equity and improving fair housing policy with the adoption of the Regional Fair Housing Plan in 2023. Come learn what’s next to fight housing discrimination, incorporate equity for marginalized populations in our housing policies and programs, and increase awareness of fair housing rights under state and federal law.

We’ll have updates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing federal rule, a panel discussion of fair housing progress at the General Assembly and across Virginia, and a panel of local experts discussing the progress Arlington has made and what remains to be done.
Please RSVP in advance to ensure you receive your free lunch at the conference. Free and open to the public.

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Submit your own Announcement here.

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