Date: January 31st, 2000
Type: MD-83
Registration: N963AS
Operator: Alaska Airlines
Where: Los Angeles, USA
Report No.-
Report Date: -
Pages: -

This is not an accident investigation report.

Alaska Airways Flight 261 departed Puerto Vallarta at 15.30h CST for a flight to Seattle with an en route stop at San Francisco. Preliminary information from air traffic control communications indicates that the aircraft's crew reported no problems when they checked in with Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Center at about 16.00 PST. About 10 minutes later they reported that they were descending and experiencing control problems. They were cleared to proceed to Los Angeles International Airport. The last communication from the aircraft was received about 7 minutes after the first report of a problem. The aircraft crashed into the sea, 8mls SW off Oxnard in 300-600ft deep water.

Local fishing boat captain David Seales, who took part in the hunt immediately after the plane crashed on Monday afternoon, said he saw little chance of finding anyone alive in North America's first major air crash of the new millennium. "It is a mess. I would be willing to say there are no survivors. The plane is pretty tore up. The only way anybody survived would be by a miracle," he said. He said the sea 20 miles off this naval base community just north of the celebrity beach city of Malibu was churning with debris from the airliner -- shoes, luggage, seats cushions and even body parts.

Flight 261 was half-filled with 88 passengers and crew and was en route from the Mexican resort Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco and then Seattle when the pilot radioed that it was having troubles with the stabilisers which keep the plane flying level. He asked for permission to make an emergency stop in Los Angeles just minutes before the plane suddenly nose-dived into the water with the fuselage apparently landing in a deep water canyon, officials said. Among the passengers on board were about 30 employees of Alaska Airlines or a sister line, Horizon who were flying for free on a "standby availability basis." Several airline employees in San Francisco said they missed Flight 261 by only few minutes and were forced to take a later flight. They were only alive because of what they considered at the time to be a stroke of bad luck.

The Coast Guard said one body had been recovered from the cold, choppy waters by nightfall. Other reports said up to nine bodies had been plucked from an ocean littered with luggage, debris, oil slicks and plastic foam from the plane. "We will keep (searching for survivors) until there is zero chance of finding anyone alive," Coast Guard Capt. George Wright said. "At 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 C), people can survive. There have been miracles. We're not going to quit unless we're positive there's no chance." But at that water temperature, officials said a fully clothed 35-year-old man of average build could last about an hour before starting to lose consciousness. The Coast Guard said six fixed-wing aircraft, four helicopters and 18 Coast Guard and Navy vessels were searching for survivors. They were helped by a large fleet of volunteer commercial fishing and oil industry vessels.

Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Officer John Kelly said he hoped people would be saved. "I am an eternal optimist. I've talked with the Coast Guard. That's some cold water, some deep water. It's not the best thing you want to have happen in the world, but miracles do happen. These folks are really going all out. It's been heartwarming." He said the accident was the airline's first fatal accident in a quarter century. He defended his airline's safety record, saying it ranked with the best in the country. He declined to comment on the cause of the crash. "At this point in time we just hope, hope, hope and pray that we will be able to get survivors. .... It's numbing. I've never been through anything like this in my life." Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans said the latest count showed there were 83 passengers and five crew on board -- two pilots and three flight attendants. The airline's count varied during the day and at one point reached a high of 89. Evans said the pilots "had radioed a problem with stabiliser trim." He added that this particular MD-83 had no history of stabiliser problems. Evans said the plane, manufactured in 1992 and with 26,584 flight hours on its log, had been serviced on Sunday, a day before the crash. A more comprehensive check had been carried out on Jan. 11, he added.