American Airlines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Los Angeles International Airport. On May 25, 1979, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 operating the flight crashed moments after takeoff from Chicago. All 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. It is the deadliest aviation accident to occur on U.S. soil.
Investigators found that as the jet was beginning its takeoff rotation, engine number one on the left (port) wing separated and flipped over the top of the wing. As the engine separated from the aircraft, it severed hydraulic fluid lines and damaged the left wing, resulting in a retraction of the slats. As the jet attempted to climb, the left wing stalled while the right wing, with its slats still deployed, continued to produce lift. The jetliner subsequently rolled to the left and reached a bank angle of 112 degrees (partially inverted), before crashing in an open field by a trailer park near the end of the runway. The engine separation was attributed to damage to the pylon rigging structure holding the engine to the wing caused by faulty maintenance procedures at American Airlines.
While maintenance issues and not the actual design of the aircraft were ultimately found responsible for the crash, the accident and subsequent grounding of all DC-10s by the Federal Aviation Administration added to an already unfavorable reputation of the DC-10 aircraft in the eyes of the public caused by several other incidents and accidents involving the type. The investigation also revealed other DC-10s with damage caused by the same faulty maintenance procedure. The faulty procedure was banned, and the aircraft type went on to have a long passenger career. It has since found a second career as a cargo airplane.
The aircraft involved was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10. It had been delivered on February 25, 1972, and at the time of the crash had logged just under 20,000 hours of flight over seven years. The jet was powered by three General Electric CF6-6D engines. A review of the aircraft's flight logs and maintenance records showed that no mechanical discrepancies were noted for May 11, 1979. On the day of the accident the records had not been removed from the aircraft, as was standard procedure, and were destroyed in the accident.
Captain Walter Lux, 53, had been flying the DC-10 since its introduction eight years earlier. He had around 22,000 hours logged, of which about 3,000 were in a DC-10. He was also qualified to pilot 17 other aircraft, including the DC-6, DC-7, and Boeing 727. First Officer James Dillard, 49, and Flight Engineer Alfred Udovich, 56, were also very experienced; they shared over 25,000 flying hours between them, of which 1,830 were in the DC-10.
DC-10 incidents and accidents
As of May 2013, the DC-10 was involved in 52 aviation accidents and incidents, including 32 hull-loss accidents, with 1,261 occupant fatalities. It has been involved in nine hijackings and criminal events resulting in 171 occupant fatalities. Despite its troubled beginnings in the 1970s, which gave it an unfavorable reputation, the DC-10 has proved a reliable aircraft. The DC-10's initially poor safety record continuously improved as design flaws were rectified and fleet hours increased. The DC-10's lifetime safety record is comparable to similar second-generation passenger jets as of 2008.