After Battling Through Thunderstorms, A Plane With Over 100 Passengers Suddenly Plunged Into A River

Image: Twitter/Jax Sheriff’s Office

It goes without saying that our different modes of transportation have evolved over the years. Think about modern trains, buses and cars; in this day and age, we can rely on all of these vehicles to get us to our everyday destinations. But when it comes to heading overseas, airplanes have become the go-to way to travel.

Image: Maarten Visser

In recent times, commercial airlines have boasted some impressive statistics regarding those who travel by air. Back in 2017, for instance, it was reported that around 4 billion people took flight – double the number that was recorded in 2005. And what’s more, the International Air Transport Association expected those numbers to grow again over the next two decades.

Image: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

When it comes to the particular types of commercial airplanes, the Boeing jets are some of the most recognizable. The 707 series in particular was widely used for more than 60 years, after all, having set off for the first time way back in 1958. But while production on the 707 halted in 1979, the aircraft wasn’t taken out of commercial use until 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: THOMAS A. HIGGINS/AFP/Getty Images

The Boeing 737, meanwhile, has been a mainstay since the series made its commercial bow in 1968. In fact, it’s reportedly the planet’s most successful commercial jetliner. But in May 2019 a 737 was embroiled in a nightmarish incident: carrying more than 100 passengers, the aircraft plunged into a river in Florida.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Of course, planes – like other forms of transport – have changed dramatically over time thanks to ever-improving technology. And the Boeing 737 series is no different, with its aircrafts having evolved greatly throughout the decades. 16 years after the aircraft’s emergence in the late 1960s, a new set of models was introduced to the world.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Arpingstone

Indeed, in the winter of 1984 the Boeing 737 Classic made its debut. Referred to as the airplane’s “second generation,” this particular series saw three different models being put into production. These were known respectively as the -300, -400 and -500. And while the last of these planes was built in the year 2000, they’re still in use today.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: ERIC SALARD

However, the Classic isn’t the only upgrade that the Boeing 737 has seen. In 1997 the Next Generation series made its debut, introducing the ?600, -700, -800 and -900 models. Since going into production back in 1996, almost 7,000 Next Generation planes have been built. And more are set to come in the future.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Adrian Pingstone

The Next Generation models were introduced at varying times, with the 737-800 planes coming into use in 1998. Depending on the interior set-up, these aircraft can house close to 190 people on board. And over time, this particular model became the favored airplane from the 737’s third generation.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Paul Lucas

The 737-800 planes are certainly popular in Europe, with Ryanair using a large number of them for its airline. In fact, the Irish company has employed more than 400 of those models to transport passengers around the world to various locations. And meanwhile, the series continues to serve passengers in the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: John Murphy

The Miami Air International airline, for instance, has a handful of Boeing 737-800s that make up its lineup. And the oldest of these aircraft apparently made its first flight back in the spring of 2001. According to the Aviation Safety Network, it served some other companies across Europe before finding its home in Florida.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Dave Montiverdi

In 2012, though, this particular 737-800 was involved in a high-profile incident. The plane was set to transport a group of NASCAR motorists from Concord, North Carolina. But as the aircraft was queuing on the runway, one of its gears veered off into some grass and consequently got caught up.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Tomás Del Coro

Thankfully, the 737-800 was removed from the grassy area – with no harm having been done to its passengers. The aircraft itself, meanwhile, came out of the incident without significant damage, too. But some seven years later, this very same airplane was involved in another major accident. And this time, it was in Florida.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Cory W. Watts

In May 2019 the 737-800 was set to fly from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay to Naval Air Station Jacksonville. According to Navy Region Southeast’s Bill Dougherty, this is a fairly frequent route, with military personnel leaving the base located in Cuba to return to America. And normally, the plane would land in Florida before traveling to Virginia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Caribb

On the evening of May 3, the 737 approached the landing strip at the airport in Jacksonville. Over 130 people were on board the plane, including regular citizens and members of the armed forces. The aircraft also housed a small crew, with some pets being kept in the cargo area as well.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: THOMAS A. HIGGINS/AFP/Getty Images

However, the 737 encountered a thunderstorm as it neared Naval Air Station Jacksonville that night. As a result of the conditions, the plane began to slide off the runway during its landing. And terrifyingly, the aircraft wound up in the St. Johns River, with part of it sinking under the water.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/U.S. Navy

Thankfully, however, all of the passengers and crew emerged in tact, with only a few requiring medical assistance at hospital. Following the incident, one of the individuals who had been on board, Cheryl Bormann, relayed what had happened inside the plane. According to Bormann, the trip hadn’t started off well, as the 737-800 had been late touching down in Cuba. Plus, the air con had apparently been broken.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: SkyHigh757

“[The passengers of the previous flight] were pretty universally miserable, so none of us were looking forward to getting onto the plane,” Bormann recalled to CNN in May 2019. “We got on anyway.” But while she and her fellow travelers managed to endure the thunderstorm on the way to Florida, the landing proved truly problematic.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Real Footage

“The plane… literally hit the ground, and then it bounced,” Bormann explained. “It was clear that the pilot did not have complete control of the plane, because it bounced some more, it swerved and tilted left and right. The pilot was trying to control it but couldn’t. And then all of a sudden, it smashed into something.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. Navy via Getty Images

In the immediate aftermath of the frightening crash, the passengers weren’t entirely sure what exactly had happened. But they did know one thing. “We were in water,” Bormann said. “We couldn’t tell where we were – whether it was a river or an ocean. There was rain coming down. There was lightning and thunder.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/MyJFRD?

The ordeal wasn’t over yet, however. The people on board the airplane were subsequently evacuated – and had to brave the terrible conditions outside. And at this point, the passengers were made to wait until help finally arrived. “We stood on [the plane’s] wing for a significant period of time,” Bormann recalled to CNN.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. Navy via Getty Images

“Rescue folks came, and eventually someone inflated a life raft that had been on the plane, and we began climbing into it,” Bormann continued. “Everybody was helping everybody.” And also in the spirit of kindness, the stranded passengers were offered beds at Naval Air Station Jacksonville for the night.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: THOMAS A. HIGGINS/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Jacksonville confirmed that the river hadn’t been exposed to any fuel from the plane as a result of the crash. And the official also revealed that representatives from the White House had gotten in touch, asking if they could help. As for Boeing, the company released a statement via its Twitter account.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Transportation Safety Board

“A 737-800 charter flight operated by Miami Air International skidded off a runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and went into the St. Johns River Friday evening,” the tweet read. “Boeing extends its well wishes to all those involved, as 136 passengers and seven crew were reported on board.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Transportation Safety Board

“Boeing is providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (N.T.S.B.), as the agency continues its investigation,” the statement continued. “In accordance with the protocol governing aviation accident investigations, all inquiries about the investigation should be directed to the N.T.S.B.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Transportation Safety Board

The day after the accident, a group of people working for the N.T.S.B. started their analysis of the plane. The aircraft itself couldn’t be moved at this stage, as the fuel in the engines needed to be emptied first. But the team were able to pull out the black box.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/NTSBgov

And Bruce Landsberg of the N.T.S.B. revealed that the device was now being looked over. “This is a relatively new airplane and that will make it much easier for us to ascertain what happened,” he told The Washington Post. “We feel quite confident that we’ll be able to hear what the crew was saying to each other and what they were thinking.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Official U.S. Navy Page

Sadly, however, not everyone was able to escape the accident alive. During the crash, the pets that had been staying in the cargo hold had been submerged in the river. And this meant that no one could get to them in time. Consequently, naval divers started to pull out the bodies of the animals a couple of days later.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Transportation Safety Board

And Landsberg reflected on the heartbreaking discovery of the creatures after the accident. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that could be done for the animals at that point,” he said. “There were no pet containers visible above the water line.” He didn’t stop there, though.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Transportation Safety Board

Landsberg tried to look at the positives in the wake of the crash – despite the tragic deaths of the animals. “I think we’re all thankful,” the N.T.S.B. higher-up told The Washington Post. “Because unfortunately, we have way too many examples of similar accidents where there is a loss of human life.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/MyJFRD?

Meanwhile, the passengers of the 737-800 were offered cash in compensation for the ordeal that they had endured. Kurt Kamrad, who is the president of Miami Air International, wrote an open letter to them, sharing his thoughts on the incident. And within this note, he revealed exactly how much the airline would pay out.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/MyJFRD?

“To all passengers of Miami Air Flight 293,” Kamrad’s message began. “Please allow this letter to convey our sincerest regret that you were involved in the unfortunate incident aboard Flight 293 at N.A.S. Jacksonville on May 3, 2019. We understand and appreciate the difficult experience you endured. We hope that you are doing well.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/NTSB_Newsroom?

At this point, Kamrad revealed the compensation that Miami Air International was offering. “Please be confident that the safety and satisfaction of our passengers are our top priorities,” the president continued. “As such, we would like to extend a goodwill gesture to all passengers in the amount of $2,500.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/NTSB_Newsroom?

However, Kamrad also wanted to make something clear to the passengers. “Acceptance of this payment will not affect your rights,” he wrote. “In the coming days, a representative will be in contact with you regarding the best method of sending you the goodwill gesture.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/NTSB_Newsroom?

After clearing this up, Kamrad focused his attention on the passengers’ luggage, which was still inside the plane. According to him, Miami Air International couldn’t give it back straight away. “With regard to your checked baggage, please note that it is still within the cargo hold of the aircraft,” the letter continued.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/NTSB_Newsroom?

“Once the N.T.S.B. provides its authorization, we will retrieve the baggage from the cargo hold,” Kamrad explained. “To the best that we can, we will then clean and catalog the baggage. Once all the baggage is catalogued, a representative will contact you regarding identifying and returning your specific bags. Again, we sincerely regret this unfortunate event.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. Navy via Getty Images

But the passengers faced some other unforeseen difficulties after leaving the downed 737-800 that night. You see, they weren’t allowed to exit the airport without their identifying documents – many of which were still on the aircraft. And in the wake of said added hassle, Bormann gave a bit of insight into the passengers’ predicament.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/Aero Gazette?

“Everyone is sort of milling around, because no one knows quite what to do,” Bormann told CNN in May 2019. “[Border control] won’t let us leave. Everybody is curious about their belongings and want to know what will happen next.” And on this note, the N.T.S.B.’s investigation into the accident eventually turned up some results.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/Vic Micolucci WJXT

Bruce Landsberg spoke at a news conference some two days on from the incident. And there, he revealed the cause of the crash-landing in Jacksonville. “The aircraft had been in maintenance,” he explained to the gathered media workers. “And the maintenance log noted that the left hand thrust reverser was inoperative.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/Angela Neal

What’s more, the N.T.S.B. investigation also uncovered a strange occurrence that had happened prior to the plane’s landing. According to the board, the pilots had made a request regarding the runway on which they’d be landing. Before this point, all of the aircraft had apparently been touching down to the west. Yet the 737-800 had wanted to head in to the east.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Twitter/USCGSoutheast

And as it turned out, this last-minute runway switch-up meant that the pilots had had less space on which to land. “We don’t know what they were thinking or why that was their choice,” Landsberg added. “[It would be] inappropriate for me to second-guess the pilots at this point.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT