ValuJet Flight 592

ValuJet Flight 592

Infobox Airliner accident|name=ValuJet Airlines Flight 592
Date=May 11, 1996
Type=In-flight fire
Site=Florida Everglades
Aircraft Type=McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32
Origin=Miami International Airport
Destination=Hartsfield International Airport
Operator=ValuJet Airlines
Tail Number= [ N904VJ]
Survivors = 0

ValuJet Flight 592 was a flight that crashed on May 11, 1996 en route from Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, United States to Hartsfield International Airport (now known as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. The crash was a large factor in undermining the credibility of the low-cost carrier ValuJet Airlines.


The 27-year-old DC-9 aircraft on this route, [ N904VJ] , previously owned by Delta Air Lines [] , took off after a delay of 1 hour and 4 minutes at 2:04 pm and began a normal climb, however at 2:10 p.m. asked air traffic control for a return to Miami due to smoke in the cockpit and cabin. Captain Candi Kubeck and First Officer Richard Hazen were given instructions for a return to the airport. Seconds later, shouts of "fire, fire, fire, fire" were recorded on the plane's cockpit voice recorder coming from the cabin. A flight attendant opened the cockpit door and informed the flight crew that the cabin was on fire. The ValuJet flight attendant manual stated that the cockpit door should not be opened when smoke or other harmful gases may be present in the cabin. However, the intercom was disabled, and there was no other way to inform the pilots of what was happening. By this time, the plane's interior was completely on fire.

Flight 592 disappeared from radar at 2:14 p.m. It crashed in Browns Farm Wildlife Management area in the Everglades, a few miles west of Miami; at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour. Kubeck, Hazen, the three flight attendants and all 105 passengers aboard were killed. Recovery of the aircraft and victims was made extremely difficult by the location of the crash. The nearest road of any kind was more than a quarter of a mile (401 m) away from the crash scene, and the location of the crash itself was summarized as deep-water swamp with a bedrock base. The DC-9 shattered on impact with the bedrock, leaving very few large portions of the plane intact. Sawgrass, alligators, and risk of bacterial infection from cuts plagued searchers involved in the recovery effort.


Notable passengers killed on the flight included:

* San Diego Chargers running back Rodney Culver
* Former University of Miami offensive lineman [ Robert Woodus]
* Songwriter and musician Walter Hyatt.
* Tabetha Leonard, the youngest person aboard the flight.

"COPS" happened to be taping with the Miami-Dade Police Department when the accident occurred. As a result, one of the episodes aired in the 1996-97 season features some of the first 9-1-1 calls and the initial investigations into the accident.

Residences of passengers: [" [ Complete list of passengers and crew] ," "CNN"]

Everglades Memorial

A memorial to the victims located in the Everglades was dedicated in 1999 on the third anniversary of the accident. The memorial, consisting of 110 concrete pillars, is located just north of Tamiami Trail about 11 miles west of Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade County and points to the location of the actual crash site eight miles to the north.

Within days of the crash of Flight 592, the song "Deep Down In the Everglades" was written by Rod MacDonald and performed in a small workshop at the Florida Folk Festival. The MC, Dale Crider, was so moved that he invited MacDonald to sing it with him that evening on the main stage. The song was released on MacDonald’s 1999 CD “Into the Blue” (Gadfly Records/US, Brambus Records/Switzerland). [ Read lyrics]


The NTSB investigation eventually determined that the fire that downed Flight 592 began in a cargo compartment below the passenger cabin. The cargo compartment's fire suppression amounted to a no-air recycling environment, so a standard fire would have simply run out of air and burned itself out.

The NTSB determined that just before takeoff, expired chemical oxygen generators were placed in the cargo compartment in five boxes marked COMAT (company-owned material) by ValuJet's maintenance contractor, SabreTech, in contravention of FAA regulations forbidding the transport of hazardous materials in aircraft cargo holds. Failure to cover the firing pins for the generators with the prescribed plastic caps made an accidental activation much more likely. SabreTech employees indicated on the cargo manifest that the canisters were empty, when in fact they were not.

Chemical oxygen generators, when activated, produce oxygen. As a byproduct of the exothermic chemical reaction, they also produce a great quantity of heat. These two together were sufficient not only to start an accidental fire, but also produce the extra oxygen needed to keep the fire burning, made much worse by the presence of combustible aircraft wheels in the hold. NTSB investigators theorized that when the plane experienced a slight jolt while taxiing on the runway, an oxygen canister activated, producing oxygen and heat. Laboratory testing showed that canisters of the same type could heat near-by materials up to 260 °C (500° F), enough to ignite a smouldering fire. The oxygen from the generators fed the resulting fire in the cargo hold. A pop and jolt heard on the cockpit voice recording and correlated with a brief and dramatic spike in the altimeter reading in the flight data recording was attributed to the sudden cabin pressure change caused by a semi-inflated aircraft wheel in the cargo hold exploding in the fire. (Two main tires and wheels, a nose tire and wheel were also included in the COMAT).

Ground crew loaded the boxes containing the canisters even though SabreTech had not prepared them for safe transport.

In 1988, American Airlines Flight 132 (a McDonnell-Douglas MD-80, the successor airplane to the DC-9) had a similar accident. A cargo hold fire caused by hazardous materials started, but the crew landed the aircraft safely. After this incident, the NTSB recommended to the FAA that all class D cargo holds have smoke detectors and/or fire suppression systems. [ [ Aviation Safety page on the AA 132 incident] ]

Smoke detectors in the cargo holds can alert the flight crew of a fire long before the problem becomes apparent in the cabin, and a fire suppression system buys valuable time to land the plane safely. In February, 1998 the FAA issued revised standards requiring all Class D cargo holds be converted to Class C or E by early 2001. []


The NTSB placed fault for ValuJet Flight 592 on three parties: SabreTech, for illegally transporting dangerous materials aboard a commercial aircraft, improperly labeling them, and not providing safety equipment to ship them; ValuJet, for not properly supervising SabreTech; and the FAA, for not properly supervising ValuJet and not requiring active fire suppression equipment in this cargo compartment.

In 1997, a federal grand jury charged SabreTech with mishandling hazardous materials, failing to train its employees on proper handling of hazardous materials, criminal conspiracy and making false statements. SabreTech's maintenance supervisor, Daniel Gonzalez, and two mechanics who worked on the plane, Eugene Florence and Mauro Valenzuela, were charged with conspiracy and making false statements. Two years later, having been found guilty on the mishandling hazardous materials and improper training charges, SabreTech was fined $2 million and ordered to pay $9 million in restitution. Gonzalez and Florence were acquitted on all charges, while Valenzuela failed to appear and is currently missing.

In 2001, United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the SabreTech guilty verdict in part. In so doing, the panel concluded that federal law at the time of the crash could not support a conviction for mishandling hazardous materials and that the government did not prove that SabreTech formed an intent to cause harm. The panel did, however, uphold the conviction for improper training, and on remand, the District Court sentenced SabreTech to a $500,000 fine, three years' probation and no restitution.

Just before the federal trial, a Florida grand jury indicted SabreTech on 110 counts of manslaughter and 110 counts of third-degree murder; one for each person who died in the crash. SabreTech settled the state charges by agreeing to plead no contest to a state charge of mishandling hazardous waste and donating $500,000 to an aviation safety group and a Miami-Dade County charity.

SabreTech was the first American aviation company to be criminally prosecuted for its role in an American airline crash. The company, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Sabreliner Corporation, went out of business in 1999.

ValuJet was grounded by the FAA on June 16, 1996. It was allowed to resume flying again on September 30, but never recovered from the crash. In 1997, it merged with AirTran Airways. Although ValuJet was the nominal survivor, the ValuJet name was so tarnished by this time that it decided to take the AirTran name.

Many families of the Flight 592 victims were outraged that ValuJet was not prosecuted, given ValuJet's poor safety record. ValuJet had a higher accident rate than the 10 largest airlines, leading the FAA to take the unprecedented step of barring it from buying more planes or adding more cities without permission. The agency had seriously considered grounding the airline. The victims' families also point to statements made by ValuJet officials immediately after the crash that appeared to indicate ValuJet knew the generators were on the plane, and in fact had ordered them returned to Atlanta rather than properly disposed. []

In the media

* After the crash "The Onion" created a satirical article, " [ ValuJet Cleared To Resume Flights To Ocean Floor] ."
* A National Geographic "Seconds From Disaster" episode covered the crash
* There is also an episode of "COPS" in which the incident took place. Crashsite was seen from a police helicopter, and the original 911 call was used in the segment.

ee also

* List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners
* Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 - Another airliner crash in the Florida Everglades


External links

* [ Photo of the plane after being retired by Delta and bought by Valujet]
* [ Photo of the plane while in service with Valujet]
* [ Passenger list and gallery]
* [ ValuJet Flight 592 Memorial]
* [ Flight 592 special report (CNN)]
* [ NTSB brief report]
* [ NTSB full report (PDF)]
* [ Audio transcript of the Air Traffic Control conversations]
* [,9171,984555,00.html Death in the Everglades] , "TIME"
* [ Valujet: The Crash of Flight 592] , "CNN"
* [ Valujet 592's Last Flight] ," "The New York Times"
* [ Contractor Found Guilty in Trial on ValuJet Crash]
* [ ValuJet Cleared To Resume Flights To Ocean Floor] - a parody article by "The Onion"
* [ Flight From Reality: The ValuJet Cover-Up] - Michael Fumento

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