Flight 301: The Deadly Crash Caused by a Blocked Pitot Tube

The True Story of Flight 301

The crash of flight 301 on 6 February 1996 remains one of the deadliest aviation disasters in the Dominican Republic. The chartered flight from Puerto Plata to Germany was carrying 176 passengers and 13 crew members.

The Boeing 757-225 operating the flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Gregorio Luperon International Airport. Investigations later revealed that one of the pitot tubes was blocked by a wasp’s nest.

Takeoff

The Boeing 757 took off from Gregorio Luperon International Airport at 23:42 AST with the captain at the controls and the autopilot engaged. As the plane climbed through 4700 feet, it’s airspeed indicators began to give erroneous readings. One of the three pitot tubes used to measure airspeed was blocked by what investigators believe to be a black and yellow mud dauber, a type of solitary sphecid wasp that builds its nest in hollow areas.

At some point, the co-pilot and relief pilot recognized that the aircraft was approaching a stall and attempted to warn the captain. But the captain failed to respond in a timely manner and instead tried to recover by increasing thrust, but the plane’s nose-up attitude prevented the engines from receiving adequate airflow. The left engine flamed out, which caused the right engine, still at full power, to throw the plane into a spin. Eight seconds later, the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) sounded an audio warning, and the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 176 passengers & 13 crew members on board.

Stalling

At least one of the plane’s pitot tubes was blocked, but the pilots ignored this warning. They took off normally and began climbing.

As the plane climbed, it kept rolling left and right, sometimes steeply. This was because the pilots were not able to level the wings due to the ice on them.

The FSE had noticed the snow on the wings, but he thought it would slide off during the takeoff roll and didn’t consider de-icing the aircraft. He told the ground handlers that it wasn’t necessary, and they apparently believed him.

During the climb, the trainee captain’s airspeed indicator began to show low readings. But he ignored it, assuming that the problem was caused by a faulty sensor. Then, as the flight approached the stall, the stick-shaker stalled warning activated and the ailerons stopped working smoothly. This triggered a violent buffeting as the airflow separated from the wings. This re-triggered the stick-shaker alert and the plane entered the stall.

Crash

The film is a riveting thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. It is not only a must-see for aviation fans but also for anyone who is curious about what happened to the real Flight 301.

In February of 1996, flight 301 took off from Puerto Plata’s Gregorio Luperon International Airport for Frankfurt, Germany via Gander, Canada and Berlin. The Boeing 757-225 was carrying 176 passengers and 13 crew members. The plane crashed shortly after take-off with no survivors.

During the takeoff phase, the pilots noticed that their air speed indicators (ASI) weren’t reading correctly. The captain’s ASI displayed a decreasing speed while the copilot’s ASI showed an increasing speed. They became confused and believed that both ASIs were malfunctioning. They lost control of the aircraft and it crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. 189 people died. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were recovered and analysed. Investigators concluded that the plane’s ASI was faulty due to a pitot tube that was blocked by a wasp nest, possibly because it had sat unused for some time without the required pitot tube covers in place.

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