A Plane Crash That Killed 101 People, Because The Crew Was Distracted By A Burnt-out Light Bulb

Photo credit: Jon Proctor

In a Nutshell

In December of 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401, ferociously collided with the Florida Everglades. The plane was an L-1011-1 Tristar jumbo jet, which marked the first crash of a widebody aircraft. Reports claimed that the entire crew was busy attending to a faulty light bulb, and they were completely oblivious to the fact they were rapidly falling in altitude. The crash sadly killed 101 people, but 75 miraculously survived to reveal exactly what occurred.

The Whole Bushel

You often hear that flying by plane is possibly the safest form of transport, and that’s why crashes in the sky are usually completely unexpected. On the rare occasion that one does happen, it’s usually a problem with the plane itself, as you’d never imagine the pilots putting other lives in danger. However, on December 29, 1972, at 11:42pm, that’s exactly what happened…

The jumbo jet took off as normal from the Kennedy International Airport, and the journey itself was supposed to be a simple two-hour one. But, as it started to close in on Miami International Airport, the pilots noticed an issue when they tried to deploy the plane’s landing gear. If everything is well and good, a tiny green light should pop up to confirm that the nose-wheel has been locked down, but the light didn’t activate.

Replacing the small light bulb is a relatively easy task, so pilots Capt. Bob Loft and First Officer Bert Stockstill placed the plane on autopilot so they could fix it. Although, without realizing, one of them knocked into the control panel on the way out, and deactivated the autopilot setting.

So, while they were preoccupied with repairing the broken light bulb, the plane was actually descending from 2,000ft every minute. Plus, as it was a night-time flight, there was no indication from outside the windows that they were on a downward trajectory. To make matters even worse, the automatic warning to suggest they’re at a low-indicator was missed, as no-one was at the flight engineer’s station.

Seconds later, the plane crashed into the Everglades, and plenty of people died upon impact. But, as it is a swampy area, the blow was cushioned, and 75 survived, many of them without any injury. As flight 401 was no longer displayed on the radars, there was a recuse call to the Opa-Locka Coast Guard Station, he sent four helicopters to search for the wreckage.

Luckily, Bob Marquis, who was hunting in his airboat, quickly discovered the situation, and the torch on his helmet acted as a signal to the helicopters. When the helicopters reached the crash site, the rescue team found many people covered in jet fuel, dazed, and even naked due to the impact. Considering the helicopters were designed to accommodate six, it was incredible how they loaded 13 people on at a time.

Ultimately, the crash is still the worst aviation tragedy in Florida’s history, but it can either be remembered with a glass half-full mentality, or a half-empty one. What that means is, you can either acknowledge the problems that led to the crash, or you can commemorate those that died and celebrate the fact that 75 survived.

Show Me The Proof

Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 [Link]
Ghosts of Flight 401 [Link]