|Boeing 727 Crashed into Potomac River
January 13, 1982
An Air Florida Boeing 727 plunged into the Potomac River in Washington D.C. on January 13, 1982. The flight took off from Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, with 74 passengers and 5 crew members on board. The airport had been temporarily closed, because of winter weather. When it re-opened, the plane was de-iced, and after difficulty moving from the gate, taxied to the only open runway, where it was forced to wait 45 minutes for clearance to take off. Not wanting to further delay the flight, the pilot did not return for more de-icing, and worse, failed to turn on the plane’s own de-icing system. During the delay, however, ice was accumulating on the wings, and by the time the plane reached the end of the runway, it was able to achieve only a few hundred feet of altitude. Thirty seconds later, the plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River, less than a mile away from the runway. Seven vehicles traveling on the bridge were struck by the 727 and the plane fell into the freezing water. It was later determined that 73 of the people on board the plane died from the impact, leaving only six survivors in the river. In addition, four motorists died in the crash. Traffic that day made it difficult for rescue workers to reach the scene. Witnesses didn’t know what to do to assist the survivors who were stuck in the freezing river. Finally, a police helicopter arrived and began assisting the survivors in a very risky operation. One of the survivors, Arland Williams, passed lifelines on to others rather than take one for himself. When one of the survivors to whom Williams had passed a lifeline was unable to hold on to it, Lenny Skutnik, who was watching the tragedy, jumped into the water and swam to rescue her. Both Skutnik and Williams received the Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medal. The bridge was later renamed the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge.