On January 31, 2000 Alaska Airlines Flight 261 was in route from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Seattle, Washington with a stop planned for San Francisco, California. Things went catastrophically wrong, even with the subtle hints of disaster that could be seen lurking in the shadows from takeoff. All 83 passengers and 5 crewmembers aboard the MD-83 (N963AS) ultimately paid the price for simple oversights. This paper will try to shed light into the underlying circumstances that led up to the uncontrollable crash. This will include the flight crew overlooking obvious signs of trouble from liftoff, to the preventative maintenance that was performed, and finally delve into the heart of the investigational findings of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. Climbing into the afternoon sky above Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Jan. 31, 2000, 5 flight crew members and 83 passengers settled in for the nearly four hour flight to San Francisco. As the jet passed 7,500 feet, Capt. Ted Thompson turned on the autopilot as he had done many times before being a seasoned commercial airline pilot with 10,400 hours of flight time under his belt, alongside 1st Officer William Tansky whom was no stranger to aviation himself logging more than 8,047 hours to his credit. After 13 minutes of smooth flying, nearing the cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, the auto-pilot disengaged indicating to the flight crew that the stabilizer trim system was apparently not working properly and the aircraft was going to have to be flown manually (by hand) for the rest of the flight. After interviewing several veteran airline pilots, it was in agreement that the crew probably thought it was nothing serious, and had no reason to alert passengers and cause them needless worry. The stabilizer is a wing like structure on top of the MD-83 tail that can be moved up or down slightly, either by the pilot (manually) or by the autopilot. (Wallace, 2000 Para. 11) Stab trim problems do happen, they are not a rare fail item within the commercial fleets. The pilots false sense of security would later prove to be a fatal mistake, which may or may not have been foreseeable during the Isochronal maintenance procedure performed just 2 years prior to the devastating crash.
During a heavy maintenance inspection (Isochronal Phase) at Alaska’s facility in Oakland California, a “lead” mechanic recommended and documented that the jackscrew
assembly needed to be replaced. His decision was later overturned because other mechanics re-tested the assembly and said that it was within wear limits causing the
faulty jackscrew to remain installed. This decision which would seem rather routine at the time, by any maintainers standards, as the FAA has given airlines wide latitude to set their own maintenance schedule for inspecting and lubricating the jackscrew assemblies. This causes widely different standards among airlines to properly maintain their aircraft. This allowed maintainers to push inspection intervals from...