Delta Passengers Receive Flight Of Their Life As Pilots Literally Dodged Storm

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RWC News Delta Passengers Receive Flight Of Their Life As Pilots Literally Dodged Storm

Delta flight 431 leaves San Juan with 173 passengers safely aboard.

After watching more than one hurricane barrel towards the United States over the last few weeks, it is clear that weather emergencies often unfold quickly. Because of some high tech gadgets, many onlookers can track and plan for the storms hitting their area. A huge benefit of this ability is, of course, the countless lives it saves as people are given enough notice to evacuate quickly. In the case of an island like Puerto Rico, this may include taking a flight out of the area. A crew from Delta Airlines made a carefully planned but also nail-biting round trip flight to the island just in time to whisk brave passengers out of harm’s way. This was truly a once in a lifetime trip and lifesaving for the passengers it rescued from the island.

Delta is one of the leading airlines as far as flight completion rankings, and they take great pride in this. Safety is also, of course, a huge factor in day to day operations. The company uses state of the art proprietary software on board each plane to allow pilots to see possible weather issues before they encounter them. The flight crew of Delta flight 431 were well prepared for a quick round trip flight to Puerto Rico just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The race against time started like many other flights did at New York’s JFK Airport. They pushed back from the gate at 8:12 AM with just enough time to land before Irma hitting San Juan. As it left the gate, the tracking system at FlightAware.com showed a comfortable gap between the weather system and the flight landing. This gap started to chip away as flight 431 sat on the runway for 27 minutes before finally taking off.

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As Delta put flight 431 into the air, Hurricane Irma was already making history. Irma was clocking winds up to 185 mph, which made it the second-strongest storm ever recorded. The Category 5 storm was slowly moving towards Florida across the Caribbean. The fact that the Boeing 737-900ER had taxied so much time on the runway complicated the flight.

The flight took three hours and 49-minutes to get to San Juan. As other airlines canceled flights, many of those travelers who regularly follow flights on line became aware of the close call that might face flight 431. A large number of internet users started to monitor the flight on line.

As the flight landed at 12:01 pm. There was only a light bit of rain and very mild winds. This was the calm before the storm, and the ground crew knew this. They were able to turn the flight around in just under 40 minutes and get the plane headed back to New York. A total of 173 passengers made it safely off the island because of the skillful flying of the Delta crew.

Delta vice president Erik Snell explained:

“Our meteorology team is the best in the business. They took a hard look at the weather data and the track of the storm and worked with the flight crew and dispatcher to agree it was safe to operate the flight. And our flight and ground crews were incredible in their effort to turn the aircraft quickly and safely so the flight could depart well before the hurricane threat.”

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RWC News Delta Passengers Receive Flight Of Their Life As Pilots Literally Dodged Storm

Tracking systems allowed Delta to beat the storm and safely get back to New York.

Flight 431 did need to leave about 22 minutes early to avoid the weather, but this was made possible by ground crews and the onboard staff working quickly to get everyone on board. The passengers were well aware of the need to move quickly as many were also tracking the speed of the storm heading towards them. The flight also garnered the attention of local media as they described it:

“The three-hour and 49-minute flight become more thrilling than a movie on the seat-back screen, as aviation fans — such as Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) — monitored the flight’s progress through online tracking services.
As the pilots aimed for the island, the red-yellow-and-green mess of Irma sprawled in front of the plane on weather radar. Delta’s proprietary flight weather viewer app, which pilots use to help predict turbulence, was another tool that helped make the final San Juan flights as smooth as possible, Thomas said.
The timing proved auspicious. The flight landed at 12:01 p.m. in light rain with nine miles of visibility, with wind gusts to 31 knots, which is well within operating limits for the aircraft to fly safely, according to Michael Thomas, a Delta spokesman.
Landing was only half the challenge. After a speedy, 40-minute turn, return flight 302 pushed away from the gate 24 minutes early in San Juan, on its way back to JFK, according to FlightAware.”

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Emma Laftchu
I began reporting for RWC News on October 12th of 2016. Prior to that I was a reporter for WOKR Radio.

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