Exactly 38 years ago today, on January 21, 1985, Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 crashed, killing 70 of its 71 passengers and crew. Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 was a Super Bowl charter flight sponsored by Caesars casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The aircraft involved in the crash was a 25-year-old four turboprop-engine-powered Lockheed L-188 Electra with the registration N5532.

RNO to MSP route map

Image: GCmaps.

Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 started its day at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) as Galaxy Airlines Flight 201 bound for Oakland International Airport (OAK). From Oakland, the plane, now designated as Galaxy Airlines Flight 202, took off for Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada.

Caesars Tahoe had arranged for a group of high rollers in Minnesota to fly to Lake Tahoe for a Super Bowl party and the chance to partake in some gambling. At the time, casinos were not as abundant as they are today. Back in 1985, if you wanted to gamble in the United States, the only places you could go were Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Reno, and Tahoe.

The plane was full of gamblers returning from Lake Tahoe

Following a weekend of partying, which culminated in watching the San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins 38 to 16, the gamblers were onboard the plane, ready to fly back to Minneapolis. At around 00:59, the first officer on the flight requested taxi instructions from Reno tower and was told to taxi to Runway 16R for takeoff. Once there, the first officer requested permission to take off. Four seconds later, permission was granted, and the plane powered up, speeding down the runway. As the aircraft was passing through V1, there was a strange noise, and then the same thing again as it reached V2.

The captain reduced the power to the engines

Shortly after taking to the skies, there was heavy vibration. The captain throttled back, believing that the vibration was either being caused by the engines or the propellors. At an altitude of around 250 feet, the captain turned the plane to return to Reno Airport. During the turn, the now underpowered plane stalled and crashed into a field bursting into flames. The only person to survive the crash was a 17-year-old male who had been thrown from the plane during the impact.

The investigation of the crash of Galaxy Airlines Flight 203

After a detailed investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the probable cause of the accident was pilot error. They determined that the captain had failed to rectify an error made by the first officer for not controlling the plane’s airspeed. They said that a breakdown in coordination between the captain and copilot occurred following the vibrations.

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A contributing factor to the accident was the failure of the ground crew to close an air start access door properly. This, the NTSB believed, was the cause of the vibrations. In the end, the captain’s fatal mistake was powering back on the engines, believing them to be the cause of the vibration. If he had not done so, the plane would have been able to achieve cruising speed and continue on to Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) without any problems.

Source: simpleflying.com

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