Can Planes Just Run Out of Gas?

The Avianca crash raises a rare but scary worry for nervous flyers

Every frequent flyer knows the frustration of circling interminably in bad weather, often bouncing in turbulence and unable to see much beyond the murk outside the windows. After the crash of Avianca Flight 52, which killed 73 passengers just 15 miles short of New York's Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 25, travelers have a disturbing new question to ponder while they wait: Is the plane running out of fuel?

The Boeing 707 had been delayed fully 89 minutes in various holding patterns on its scheduled five-hour flight from Medellin, Colombia, to New York. Bad weather had stalled 248 other planes heading...

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