Remembering the Air Florida crash in D.C.

When I was traveling with Howard Baker in Iowa in 1980, before the caucuses, it looked like we were going to be iced in at Dubuque. We had flown in earlier in the day. I had been in the second plane, with a couple of guys from an NBC crew. It was a four-seater, and flying in from Des Moines, the pilot only had a tiny patch of windshield, about the size of my hand, that he could see through by constantly squirting alcohol on it. When I got out of the plane, I was trying to button my trenchcoat when the wind caught it like a sail and I started gliding across the frozen tarmac.

Later, I was scheduled to fly back to Des Moines in the “big” plane, which wasn’t all that much bigger, with Baker. We waited in the tiny general aviation terminal for more than an our while the wings of our plane were deiced, then deiced again, and again. Finally, we got in and took off. Someone told me that they only let us go because it was Sen. Baker.

Two years later, I realized that the aviation officials had done us no favors letting us go. I had no idea how very dangerous ice on the wings could be. Until the Air Florida crash.

6 thoughts on “Remembering the Air Florida crash in D.C.

  1. bud

    Hard to believe it ever got cold enough to create massive ice flows on the Potomac River. Wouldn’t the temperature have to drop to below zero for a period of time to create that situation?

    I wonder what changes were made to the de-icing procedures after that tragedy? I haven’t heard of another incident like that one since.

  2. Steve Gordy

    I’d flown into a winter storm on a trip to Chicago the week before the crash; at that time, I figured no one would be so stupid (or preoccupied) as to try to take off with ice build-up on the wings. One bit of gallows humor that came out after the crash was a suggested advertising slogan: “Air Florida: All our drinks are served ice-cold.”

  3. Rose

    It was the display of heroism and sacrifice by Arland Williams that really sticks in my memory. The Citadel graduate was one of six survivors on the tail section. Each time the rescue helicopter dropped flotation devices to them Arland passed them to others. Each time they dropped the rope to him, he passed it to others, until he was the last one left. But when the chopper came back for him, he was gone. Time magazine said, “He was the best of us.”


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