25 Years Ago: Air Florida Flight 90

Ken AshfordHistoryLeave a Comment

Af90It was 25 years ago tomorrow, on a snowy cold day (remember those?) in Washington, D.C., when Air Florida Flight 90 took off from Washington National Airport with its wings ineffectively de-iced.  Moments later, it hit the 14th Street Bridge, crushing six cars, one truck, and killing four people, before it belly-flopped and sunk in the ice-covered Potomac River.

All but 5 of the 79 passengers and crew on board died.

It’s a story of tragedy, but it is also a story of heroism — as exemplified by Roger Olian, a sheet-metal worker.  On his way home from work, Olian heard a man yelling that there was an aircraft in the water. As others tried to lower cables to the passengers in peril, Olian lept into the frigid water to save lives. 

A congressional office worker, Lenny Skutnick, was on the shoreline as a helicopter dropped lines to drag floating passengers to the shore.  When one woman grew too weak from the cold to hold on to the line, Skutnick took off his coat and boots and — in short sleeves — dove into the frigid waters to help her to shore — all recorded by news cameras.

It’s also the story of the so-called "sixth passenger" – a survivor of the impact who handed life lines to his fellow passengers in the water so that they would be rescued.  He was not rescued and was later identified as Arnold D. Williams, 46, a bank examiner from Illinois.  According to the coroner, Williams was the only victim to die from drowning — all others had died as a result of the impact.  The 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac is now known as the Arnold D. Williams Bridge.

I remember the crash well, and seeing the video on TV.  Hard to believe it was 25 years ago.

More from Wikipedia.