The Price of an Hour: The crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261

A still from the TV show “Mayday” attempts to capture the harrowing final moments of Alaska Airlines flight 261. (Mayday)
A quirky advertisement for Alaska Airlines from the ’60s or ’70s. (Alaska Airlines Blog)
N963AS, the aircraft involved in the accident. (User N94504 via
Diagram of the location and function of the horizontal stabilizer and jackscrew assembly. (Original source unknown, possibly the Seattle Times)
A more detailed breakdown of the jackscrew assembly. (NTSB)
A properly greased jackscrew, seen during an inspection for wear. (NTSB)
The actual work card related to the fateful jackscrew nut inspection, 27 Sept. 1997. (NTSB)
Stages of wear on the jackscrew nut. (FAA)
The route of Alaska Airlines flight 261. (Google + own work)
The runaway stabilizer checklist which may have been used by the pilots. (NTSB)
An even more detailed diagram of the jackscrew assembly. (NTSB)
The first two stages of the stabilizer failure. (NTSB)
Map of the final part of the flight. (FAA)
How aerodynamic forces were affecting the badly damaged horizontal stabilizer. (Own work)
The final stage of the failure: complete separation. (NTSB)
This animation of flight 261’s final dive was featured in Mayday: Season 1 Episode 5, “Cutting Corners.”
In a still from live news footage, search and rescue teams scour the floating wreckage of flight 261. (NBC News)
The jackscrew as it was found, still attached to the horizontal stabilizer but separated from the nut. (NTSB)
A closer view of the jackscrew with the threads of the nut still wrapped around it. (NTSB)
Pieces of Alaska Airlines flight 261 are hauled from the sea. (UPI)
Wreckage from the plane was collected in a hangar for sorting and analysis. (Mike Nelson)
Wreckage was labeled to aid in its reconstruction. (Bryan Chan)
The horizontal stabilizer was, of course, the star of the investigation. (Mike Nelson)
A cross-section of the nut recovered from flight 261 shows that the threads were completely gone. (NTSB)
Recovery crews pull wreckage from the Pacific Ocean. (US Coast Guard)
Family members gather at the monument to the victims, erected in the town of Port Hueneme, California, near the crash site. The monument forms a sundial, which casts a shadow on the memorial plaque every January 31st at precisely 4:22 p.m., the time of the crash. (Ventury County Star)




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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Admiral Cloudberg

Admiral Cloudberg

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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