Flight crew remembered after 41 years

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A Boeing 727-100 of Northwest Orient © GFDL| Richard Silagi

A small ceremony will take place near New York City this weekend (7 November) to remember a crash that in several ways pointed to modern disasters involving automation in air transport.

On 1 December 1974, Northwest Airlines Flight 6231 crashed near Stony Point, a commuter town north of New York City, a few minutes after taking off from Kennedy Airport.

The Boeing 727’s crew had received false readings from their instruments because a pitot head had iced up, the National Transportation Safety Board report found. This caused them to slow the aircraft and raise its nose until it stalled. The aircraft was on a positioning flight with only three crew members on board, all of whom were killed.

The crash was one of the first to involve crew confusion about what the aircraft’s instrumentation was doing. Its lessons were largely forgotten, and decades later, crashes such as Aeroperu flight 603 and Birgenair flight 301 resulted from crews becoming similarly confused.

Community groups in Stony Point have joined to erect a modest memorial to flight crew, which will be unveiled at 11am US time, this Saturday, at 119 St John’s Road, Stony Point. Guests of honour will include the widow of the captain, and her two sons, both of whom became pilots.

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