50 years ago, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed into the Everglades

Author: CBS Miami Staff
The wreckage of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 in the Everglades, December 29, 1972. Credit: CBS Miami

Thursday marks 50 years since Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades.

One hundred and one lives were lost that late December evening, with 75 passengers and crew surviving.

The cause of the crash was the flight crew becoming preoccupied with an indicator light regarding landing gear which did not illuminate to confirm that the gear was in the down position and locked. It was later discovered that the bulb had burned out.

While attempting to confirm that the gear was down, the flight crew did not realize that the autopilot had been inadvertently turned off. The plane gradually lost altitude, eventually crashing into the Everglades.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report cited the cause of the crash as pilot error. It found the preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear’s position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments.

“The failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final four minutes of flight, and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground,” according to the report.

Training and standard operating procedures changed as a result of this, and other crashes, to make problem-solving in a cockpit much more efficient, causing less distraction for the crew.

Survivors of Flight 401 often gathered around the crash site on December 29th, though no dedicated memorial existed.

This year, a memorial was installed in Miami Springs on Wednesday, Dec. 14. The black granite face of it has the names of the passengers and crew members who perished.

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