Skidding To Disaster

Nine die when Flight 1420 to Little Rock tries to land in a violent storm. What went wrong?

The final moments of last Tuesday's American Airlines Flight 1420 were a ride through white-knuckle hell. The skies near Little Rock National Airport were being thrashed by a top-of-the-scale, level-6 thunderstorm. The plane and its human cargo--139 passengers and six crew members--were being tossed around by winds up to 80 m.p.h. And in the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot were getting two separate wind-shear alerts. When the wheels of the twin-engine Super MD-80 finally touched down, it was on a runway made slick by heavy rain and marble-size hail.

The storm-tossed landing was a disaster. The plane skidded wildly, at one...

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