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.
A plane crash in California wine country has claimed the lives of three people, including an Arlington couple.
Shauna and James Waite, who lived near Yorktown High School, were killed when their small plane crashed in a vineyard in Napa County on Friday morning.
According to a post on the website of running group D.C. Road Runners, of which the couple were active members, Shauna’s father Robert was also killed. The couple’s one-year-old son was with Shauna’s mother and was not on the plane, the group said.
The crash scattered wreckage and sparked a fire in the Abreu Vineyard, just south of the Angwin airfield, according to local news reports. Witnesses reported hearing a loud bang and seeing a plume of black smoke.
The plane was a Beechcraft 35 Bonanza — a single-engine, six-seat prop plane — according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.
“There are no words that can describe the loss of these wonderful people,” said the D.C. Road Runners post. “They loved life and lived every moment to the fullest. Their excitement for life was infectious.”
The Waites were avid travelers and amateur athletes who competed in races and frequented wineries, photos on social media show. They both posted often about their son, whose first birthday party was held last weekend. In 2019, Shauna posted about obtaining her pilot’s license and surprising her dad, who was also a pilot.
Dr. Shauna Waite was a veterinarian with Columbia Pike Animal Hospital in Annandale. James was a marketing manager with the California-based fintech company Hearth, according to his LinkedIn profile. In addition to their other activities, the family rescued a number of pets, including two dogs, two cats and a gecko, according to Shauna’s biography on the animal hospital website.
Several dozen friends held an informal remembrance for the couple outside their Arlington home last night.
Residents and passersby may see fire and smoke may coming Reagan National Airport this weekend, but don’t worry — it’s just a drill.
The airport will be testing its emergency preparedness plan by simulating an airline crash with hundreds of pretend casualties, officials say. The full-scale disaster drill will be held from 9:00-11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“During the exercise, smoke, fire, participants with mock injuries and a large number of emergency response vehicles may be visible to passengers and the public,” said the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
“Activities will be concentrated on the south side of the airfield in a controlled area near Runway 4,” MWAA said in a press release.
The drill will test how officials respond to a fiery airplane crash — from battling the flames, to triaging and transporting victims, and to coordinating communications with the public.
For those interested in participating, the airport is seeking volunteer victims who are at least 18 years old and have some clothes they don’t mind being destroyed by “moulage” — a.k.a. costume wound materials like fake blood.
All told, the airport hopes to attract 130 victims for the event.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations require airports develop emergency plans for disasters and test them with a full-scale disaster drill every three years. Saturday’s drill comes three years after DCA’s last drill in 2016.
MWAA also warns scanner listeners that they may hear first responders participating in the simulated scenario on Saturday.
Local law enforcement planned an emergency exercise of their own in case of a terrorist attack last month, after holding one two years ago.
Image via Eventbrite
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Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
30th Anniversary of Air Florida Crash — Thirty years ago today Air Florida Flight 90 took off from Reagan National Airport, slammed into the 14th Street Bridge and plunged into the icy Potomac River, killing 78 people. Only five people on the plane survived the crash. [Wikipedia, Washington Post]
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Il Radicchio Back Open After Sewage Backup — Il Radicchio (1801 Clarendon Blvd) closed temporarily on Jan. 3 due to a sewage backup, according to public records. The Italian restaurant reopened on Jan. 6. [Washington Post]
Seller’s Market in Arlington — Only 0.5 percent of all homes in Arlington were listed for sale late last year — a statistic that is a likely indicator of stiff competition between home buyers. [Washington Times]
Flickr pool photo by Divaknevil
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Rosslyn Metro Escalator Makes Musical Noises — The Ode Street Tribune has a recording of a veritable chorus of mechanical noises emanating from an escalator at the Rosslyn Metro station.
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Flickr pool photo by Ian Livingston
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