The Cold Laws of Winter: The crash of Air Florida flight 90

The front page of the Washington Post the day after the crash. (Washington Post)
A period advertisement for Air Florida. (Yesteryear Images Co.)
N62AF, the aircraft involved in the accident. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
The route of Air Florida flight 90. (Google + own work)
Planes are de-iced at Washington National Airport in 2015. (Washington Post)
A photo of Air Florida flight 90, taken shortly before its final departure. (The Washingtonian)
The pilots of flight 90 as young men. Wheaton is 18 in his photo; Pettit is 20. No contemporary photos are available. (The Washingtonian)
A New York Air DC-9, similar to the one in front of flight 90. (Jon Proctor)
The exhaust of a jet engine can remain very hot across a considerable distance. (NTSB)
How engine parameters including EPR are measured, and how they are presented to the pilots. (NTSB)
On the left is what the engine instruments actually read; on the right is what they should have read if thrust had been set correctly. (NTSB)
A simplified graphical representation of the effect of ice on max lift and stall AoA. (NTSB)
Map of flight 90’s brief journey from runway 36 to the crash site. (NTSB)
This CGI animation of the crash appeared in Mayday, season 13 episode 4: “Disaster on the Potomac.”
The scene on the bridge after the crash. (Mark Reinstein)
An artist’s depiction of flight 90’s brief flight and crash. (The Washington w/ Karen Karlsson)
Survivors cling to the wreckage shortly after the crash. (AP)
Kelly Duncan is airlifted to safety by the Park Police helicopter. (AP)
The helicopter pulls Stiley, Felch, and Tirado toward the shore. (AP)
On the left, Tirado loses her grip and falls on an ice floe; on the right, Skutnik pulls her from the water. (AP)
Nikki Felch is dragged aboard the helicopter by Melvin Windsor. (Washington Post)
The front page of the Washington Post the day after the crash. (Washington Post)
The 737’s tail section was recovered from the river and placed on a barge. (Mark Reinstein)
A crane pulls the tail section from the water. (US Army Corps of Engineers)
Another view of the recovery of the tail section. (AP)
A crane recovers part of the center fuselage section. (Bettmann via Getty Images)
The center fuselage section is placed on a barge. (Mark Reinstein)
A crane lifts the tail section from the barge onto a flatbed truck for transport away from the scene. (Mark Reinstein)
Part of the plane’s mangled fuselage lies on a barge. (Washington Post)
Recovery crews search for debris in the Potomac River. (Mark Reinstein)
A crane pulls a piece of wreckage out of the river. (Mark Reinstein)
Lenny Skutnik at the State of the Union. (AP)
The helicopter used in the rescue is preserved at the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington. (Photo courtesy of the museum)



Analyzer of plane crashes and author of upcoming book (eventually™). Contact me via @Admiral_Cloudberg on Reddit or by email at

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