On Sunday, the nation’s capital was bombarded by up to 8 inches of snow, the first major winter storm in Washington in more than three years.
Thirty seven years earlier, on another icy January. 13, a comparable storm pounded the D.C. Region and headed to probably the most gruesome Tragedies in the city’s history: the crash of Air Florida 90 crash to the freezing depths of the Potomac River.
It had been a pre digital, pre cable world on that bleak Wednesday mid-day in 1982. However a Television crew stuck in gridlocked traffic near captured the graphic footage after the Boeing 737 struck the fourteenth Street Bridge, only a couple of miles from the White House.
The images would be engraved in the memories of Washingtonians throughout the years: the Potomac absorbing the plane except for a piece of its tail section, the dazed eyes of a passenger, her head just above water as she grabbed the safety ring during a rescue attempt, a truck dangling across the bridge after being hit by the jetliner, a survivor cling to a rope line dangling from a U.S. Park Police helicopter.
Flight 90, operated from now defunct Air Florida, was headed to Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, a favorite winter weather escape route. Moments after takeoff, the airplane with 74 passengers and five crew members failed to keep altitude and slammed into the attic, hitting seven inhabited vehicles and plummeting into the Potomac.
Four passengers and one flight attendant had been rescued; four motorists on the bridge were murdered. The day was marked with magnificent acts of heroism. Military personnel from the Pentagon raced to the scene to assist in rescues. Others on the lake’s edge threw in makeshift lifelines, a few fashioned out of belts or battery wires, to survivors thrashing about in the water.
Arland Williams was one of six aboard the airplane who initially survived. But Williams will drown after radically passing the helicopter rescue rope to others. The Fourteenth Street Bridge was renamed in his honor in 1985.
Roger Olian, a sheet metal worker ensnared in a nearby traffic jam, was believed to be the first person to jump in water with a rope wrapped around the waist, but he’d to be reeled back in when he got stuck on ice.
Bystander Lenny Skutnik, a Congressional Budget Office assistant who ripped off of his coat and cowboy boots and sneaked in the Potomac, was able to tow one passenger, Priscilla Tirado, to shore.
Don Usher and Gene Windsor, two Park Police helicopter pilots, were able to pull out four people.
The National Transportation Safety Board has determined the main cause of the crash was aviator error, such as improper de icing procedures.
The lessons from the Air Florida tragedy would put an emphasis on everything from de icing to problems with start-up air carriers for many years to come. Jan. 13, 1982, was the second reason for being a dark day in Washington, D.C., history: About half a hour After the Air Florida incident, a subway train derailment from the heart of downtown led to the deaths of three passengers, the first fatalities involving the city’s Metro system.