Event Details

Title:Fuel exhaustion, Overseas National Airways, Inc., Douglas DC-9, N935F, Operating As Antilliaanse Luchtvaart Maatschappij Flight 980, Near St. Croix, Virgin Islands, May 2, 1970
Micro summary:This Douglas DC-9 ditched en route to a diversion following two missed approaches.
Event Time:1970-05-02 at 1549 EST
File Name:1970-05-02-US.pdf
Publishing Agency:National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
Publishing Country:USA
Report number:NTSB-AAR-71-8
Site of event:30 miles ENE of St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Latitude/Longitude:N1753' W6914'
Departure:John F. Kennedy International Airport, Jamaica, New York, USA
Destination:Juliana Airport, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
Airplane Type(s):Douglas DC-9
Flight Phase:Approach
Operator(s):Overseas National Airways, dba ANTILLIAANSE LUCHTVAART MAATSCHAPPIJ
Type of flight:Revenue
Serious Injuries:37
Other Injuries:0
Executive Summary:An Overseas National Airways, Inc. (ONA), DC9, N935F, operating as Antilliaanse Luchtvaart Maatschappij Flight 980 (ALM 980), was ditched approximately 30 miles east-northeast of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, at 1549 EST, on May 2, 1970. Forty persons, including 35 passengers and five crewmembers, survived. The remaining 23 persons on board, including two infants and a stewardess, did not survive. The aircraft sank in water more than 5,000 feet deep, and was not recovered.

The flight, from John F. Kennedy IntemationalAirport, New York, to Juliana Airport, St. Maarten, was being under terms of a lease agreement, utilizing an ONA aircraft and flightcrew, and an ALM cabin crew. ALM 980 established radio contact with Juliana Tower and received clearance for an Automatic Direction Finding (ADF) approach to Runway 09. The weather was reported as scattered clouds at 800 feet, estimated ceiling 1,000 feet broken, 5,000 feet overcast, and visibility 2 to 3 miles. The crew on this approach, and attempted two left turn, circling approaches. The first circling approach was abandoned because of poor align- ment with the runway again, and on the second one the captain was unable to maintain the descent profile without reducing power and increasing the sink rate beyond acceptable limits. The captain executed a missed approach, made a low altitude return to the St. Maarten Radio Beacon (Rbn), and was given clearance to St. Thomas at an assigned altitude of 4,000 feet. The fuel gauges were reported to have been acting emtically during the climb, but momentarily stabilized at 850 pounds of fuel remaining. A higher altitude was requested and a course adjustment was made for St. Croix, which was closer. Although the captain doubted the accuracy of the fuel gauge reading, he decided to descend in order to establish visual contact with the water. He also advised the purser that they were low on fuel, and to prepare the cabin for ditching. The purser made this announcement, and no other warning was given to the passengers prior to impact.

The ditching site was confirmed on radar with the assistance of a Pan American World Airways that diverted for that purpose. Other fixed-wing aircraft orbited the area until the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps heli- copters began picking up survivors. Weather in the area during the rescue operation was esti- mated to be 400 to 500 feet overcast and visibil- iTy as low as three-eighths of a mile in rain.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this ac- cident was fuel exhaustion which resulted from continued, unsuccessful attempts to land at St. Maarten until insufficient fuel remained to reach an alternate airport. A contributing factor was the reduced visibility in the approach zone because of rain showers. a condition not reoorted to the flight.

The Board also finds that the probability of survival would have been increased substantially in this accident if there had been better crew coordination prior to and during the ditching. The Board has recommended that actions be taken to improve passenger safety through ade-. quate warning, proper briefing, standardized seatbelts, and more accessible stowage of lifevests for emergencies. Additionally, the Board recommended priority action in the establishment of a VHF communications link between San Juan and St. Maarten.

Finally, the Board recommends that the FAA reassess the standards pertaining to certification of flotation equipment used aboard aircraft.
Learning Keywords:Operations - Airspace - Non-Precision Approach
Operations - Crew Resource Management
Operations - Deadstick/Power Loss
Operations - Ditching/Water Evacuation
Operations - Fuel Exhaustion
Consequence - Hull Loss
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