The Chicago Plane Accident

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Dear Mr. Kenneth Mead: While landing in a snowstorm last night about 7:15pm at Chicago's Midway Airport, Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 (a Boeing 737-700) arriving from Baltimore with 100 passengers on board skidded down a runway, crashed through a fence into traffic near Central and 55th Streets, hit two cars, injured at least 12 people and killed a 6-year-old boy.

According to a local newspaper report, "A passenger on the aircraft, Keith Unger, a 25-year-old Virginia medical student, said the plane seemed to be going too fast as it touched down. `I thought we were going to take off, we were going so fast,' he said. `Then I saw the wing run into a fence, I put my head down, I saw a bunch of fencing go over the wing, then the nose dipped'."

The plane landed in a severe snowstorm with winds out of the east at 13 mph around the time of the crash, with 10.2 inches accumulated by midnight.

Further, according to newspaper reports, "The Southwest flight was cleared to land on Runway 31-Center. It left Baltimore-Washington Airport around 4:50 p.m., Chicago time, and was scheduled to arrive at 6:30 p.m. It circled for a while before landing at 7:15 p.m., officials said.

"`It was very snowy, it was poor visibility, controllers in the tower couldn't see anything,' a federal source said. `They could not see the airplane. It was just starting to clear up where you could see flashing lights, but they never saw this plane. Everything was obscured because of the weather'."

"The flight had landing clearance from the control tower. The pilots were told to use an instrument landing system, or ILS, that would bring them down on the runway, which runs northwest from Cicero and 63rd to Central and 55th."

"Because the plane had a tailwind, it would have been better to use a different runway that uses an approach toward the southeast, the federal source said. But controllers avoid using that runway most of the time because it interferes with planes at O'Hare."

"The wind was about six knots, and `a six-knot tailwind is not a lot, but when the runway is snowy and icy, clearly something went wrong; they may have come in too fast or too high,' the federal source said."

"Typically, airports have a long clear zone at the end of runways, but Midway, being an older airport, does not have them and has obtained waivers so it can operate that way."

Chicago began the building of Midway Airport in 1925 and it was opened for operation in 1927. It is no larger today than it was in 1927 even though the size and speed of airplanes have increased dramatically. In light of these facts, I would like answers to the following questions:

* How many operations was Midway Airport originally built to handle?
* How many operations does Midway Airport currently handle? 
* How many operations over the original plan and design does Midway Airport currently handle?
* What was the original planned annual rate of growth of operations at Midway Airport?
* What is the current annual growth rate compared to the original plan?
* Were any safety rules stretched or compromised by the U.S. DOT, the FAA or the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation in addressing the capacity problem at Midway Airport?
* Will the US DOT Inspector General and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) seek any and all documents from the Region FAA and the Chicago Department of Aviation as part of its inquiry that justified extending the operations from the maximum allowable under the original design to the present number of operations?
* What agency - the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration or the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation - granted the "waiver" mentioned above to conduct landings at Midway with short clear zones at the end of runways?  Will the Inspector General seek any and all documents related to the granting of this waiver?
* Since 80% of the delays at Midway and O’Hare Airports are weather related, has the U.S. DOT, the FAA or the City of Chicago's Aviation Department taken any shortcuts beyond the "waiver" mentioned above in order to land more planes at Midway?
* Did the officials responsible for operations at Midway Airport last night allow sufficient time between operations to clear the runways for planes to land safely under these weather conditions?
* Did constraints on the local air space have any effect in determining which runway should be used in landing Southwest Flight 1248?
* Did constraints within the local air space have any impact or causal effect with respect to the accident?
* Could the accident have been avoided if the airplane had landed on a different runway?
Thank you for your thorough investigation into these matters.

Rep. Jackson is Represents the 11th Congressional District of Illinois.
Mr. Kenneth M. Mead is the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation

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