The Windsor Incident

On June 12th 1972, American Airlines' 46503/ 5 was assigned to flight AA096, a flight from Los Angeles to New York / La Guardia with intermediate stops at Detroit and Buffalo, NY. The aircraft was an hour behind time and landed at 1831 in Detroit. The turnaround was uneventful until the ramp service agent reported that he had difficulties in closing the aft cargo door. The handle did to close with normal pressure, so the agent somehow used the knee to do so. He informed an American Airlines mechanic and was told that everything is alright. The cockpit crew had no idea of what happened, they just noticed that the control light went out, thinking that the door was securely locked.

At 1924, when the aircraft was over Windsor, Ontario, a big noise hit the aircraft. Captain McCormick said, the rudder pedals seemed to have exploded pushing the his legs towards his body. The rudders went into a full left position and the power on engine number 2 was lost. The captain moved the control of engine number two back and forward to note that it was no longer connected to the cables. The crew thought, that they had a mid-air collision. At this point, Flight Engineer Burke recieved an interphone call from one of the stewardesses telling that the rear cabin floor collapsed. It was obvious that #5 had a hole in its fuselage causing a pressure lost.

The crew decided to fly back to Detroit Metropolitan Airport while the cabin crew was busy calming down the passengers. At 1944, 46503/ 5 touched down on 03 left. Due to the aircraft's damage, it steered a little to the right, but Captain McCormick and First Officer Paige-Whitney managed to keep the aircraft on the runway with a variation of the thrust-reverse of the two remaining engines. As soon at the aircraft came to stand, McCormick hit the emergency evacuation light and all the passengers and stewardesses left the plane by the slides. McCormick and his crew stayed on the plane for a while to view the damage of the aircraft. He stepped on the wing through exit 3R and saw that the second engine was obviously intact. However, he also so the remaining part of the aft cargo door haning from its original position and the cargo curtain waving in the midsummer wind.

Investigation showed, that the aft cargo door was not securely locked, although the handle was in position and the control light in the cockpit was off. During the climbing phase of flight AA096, the pressure built into the cabin brought the door to explode open. It is said that a pressure of almost 6 tons was on the door at this moment. After the lost of the door, the pressure was solely on the cabin floor which collapsed right above the cargo department. The lines leading through the cabin floor were cut, including the emergency shut down cable and other important cables for engine number 2 as well as for the rudder. Fortunately, the hydraulic systems and the fuel line were not affected. However, the only possibility to prevent any fire on this engine was to turn the fuel pumps off.

Only the combination of many factors saved flight AA096 from becoming a tragedy: American Airlines had a spacious lounge area at the rear of the DC-10s at that time. Had there been heavy passenger seats with passengers instead, the floor and the aircraft fuselage would have been dameged severely. Also, the head purserette decided to leave the bar closed on this particular flight so that the rear are of the DC-10 was only occupied by two stewardesses at the moment of accident - both of them were saved. Finally, Captain McCormick, First Officer Paige-Whitney and Flight Engineer succeeded in retaining the control on the aircraft and reactioned calmly and professionally.

Later, McCormick told McDonnell - Douglas to "fix the damn door". This incident led to bulletin 52-27, which was issued on July 3rd 1972. 46503/ 5 itself was repaired and soon back in service. It was not refitted with the modifications in the service bulletin until March 15th of next year! The aircraft flew for American Airlines until 1993 and was scrapped in 2002 after being stored in Amarillo, Texas and at Goodyear Municipal Airport.

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