There are two different acc’ts of Eastern Airlines Flight 227′s landing at Salt Lake City:
Acc’t # 1: Captain Gale Kehmeier’s Report
I had just transferred from San Francisco to Denver. Frank Crismon, my new boss, was giving me a route check between Denver and Salt Lake City.
“Any man who flies for me is going to know this route,” he continued. “‘ That fourteen thousand feet will clear Kings Peak’ is not adequate. You had better know that Kings Peak is exactly 14,256 feet high. And Bitter Creek is NOT ‘ about 7,000 feet.’ It is exactly 7,185 feet. And the identifying code for its beacon is dash-dot dash-dash.
“I’m putting you on probation for one month. And then I’ll ride with you again. If you want to work for me . . you had better start studying immediately ! “
Wow ! He wasn’t kidding!
For a month, I poured over sectional charts, road maps, Jeppesen approach charts and topographic maps. I learned the elevation and code for every airway beacon between the West Coast and Chicago. I learned the frequencies, run-way lengths, and approach procedures for every airport along the way. Then from city maps, I plotted the location of all streets that would funnel me to all of the runways . . for each airport.
A month later the boss was back . . on my trip.
‘How long is the north-south runway at Milford ?’ ”Fifty one fifty.”
‘How high is Antelope Island?’ ”Sixty-seven hundred feet.”
‘If your radios fail on the Ogden-Salt Lake approach, what should you do?’ ”Make a climbing right turn to 290 degrees . . . then level off at 13,000.”
‘What is the elevation of the Upper Red Butte beacon?’ ”Seventy-three hundred.”
‘And how high is the airport at Laramie?’ “Seventy-two fifty.”
And this line of questioning went on from Denver to Salt Lake.
”I’m going to turn you loose on your own. Remember what you have learned. I don’t ever want to around when they are scraping you off some mountainside with a magazine your blood’s pasted to your lap.”
Twenty years later, I was the Captain on a Boeing 720 from San Francisco to Chicago. We were cruising in the clear cold air at 37,000 feet.
South of Grand Junction, Colorado, a deep low-pressure area fed moist air upslope into Denver, causing snow, low ceilings, and restricted visibility. The forecast for Chicago’s O’Hare Field was 200 feet and one-half mile, barely minimums.
Over the Utah-Colorado border, high mountains backbone showed white in the noonday sun. I switched on the intercom and shared:
“We are over the juncture of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. On your right is America’s Switzerland . . the San Juan Mountains. In 14 minutes we will pass over Denver. And we will arrive O’Hare at 3:30 Chicago time.”
At this point, a key generator overheat light clicked on. . . RED.”
“Number 2 engine’s generator won’t stay on the electrical bus,” said the flight engineer.
So he switched his power selector to number 3 engine. And the power failure red light clicked off . . .
For 3 or 4 seconds.
Then it came back on. . .
STEADY RED !
Quickly followed by a. . .
COMPLETE ELECTRICAL FAILURE!
The flight engineer yelled : ” Heavy smoke is coming out of the main power grid!”
“Hand us the smoke goggles.”
The engineer reached behind his seat . . unzipped a small container . . and handed the copilot and me a pair of ski goggles.
The smoke was getting thick.
I slipped the emergency oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. By clicking a switch on the control wheel, I could talk to the copilot and the engineer. . . though a now battery-powered intercom.
And by flipping a switch, we could still talk to the passengers. So just before I closed all four thrust levers to idle
I called. . . telling them : “We are making an Emergency descent !”
The four engines. . . that’d been purring quietly like a giant vacuum cleaners. . . spooled down to a quiet rumble.
I set up a left turn and extended the flight spoilers. Then after we slowed down to gear speed, I put down the wheels down to increase descent rate. . . as I ordered the passengers and crew to fasten their seat belts.
I pointed the nose exactly toward Denver as the Rockies came up rapidly . . and I ordered the flight engineer to change the cabin altitude up from 5,000 to 14,000 feet. “
As we leveled over Fraser, at 14,000 feet I retracted the gear and speed brakes. Now at this lower altitude, the engineer opened a switch . . and the Boeing’s ram air ’ cleared out the electrical wiring’s smoke.
Fuel of course, is vital to the life of a fuel guzzling big jet. But electricity can be, too.
And our artificial horizon and other electronics… were useless scrap. . . tin and brass.
All I had left was altimeter . . airspeed . . and fluid compass.
“The last Denver weather was 300 feet with visibility one-half mile in heavy snow. Wind was northeast at 15 knots with gusts to 20,” the copilot volunteered.
The clouds merged against the mountains. To the northeast, the stratus clouds were thick. . . like wool on a buck sheep before shearing.
I steepened the glide as we moved over the red sandstone buildings of the University of Colorado. Then headed southeast and we picked up the Denver-Boulder turnpike.
I told the copilot : “ We are going to scud run under those snow clouds along the Boulder turnpike then on Colorado Boulevard. . . south to 26th Avenue. Then fly east to Runway 8′s threshold.”
The West Coast reserve pilot gave me a doubtful look. Like. . . ‘ Hey .. . you don’t scud-run a jet load of passengers around TV and radio towers under a 300 foot ceiling to the approach end of a major runway.
Coming south on Colorado Boulevard, we were scud running at 100 feet above people’s roofs. I intensely focused on not losing visual contact. . . because we’d have to yank it up into the goop and fly the gauges.
But . . remember . . I didn’t have any.
So I had to mentally hang onto previous studied pilotage to get us safely down at Denver.
I picked up the golf course . . and made a crop duster style move to the left.
“Get that landing gear back down. Give me 30 degrees of flaps “as I shouted as I shoved all engine thrust levers forward.
“Now . . I am going outside the airplane.
Don’t let me get less than 150 knots!”
I counted the avenues sliding underneath . . 30th, 29th, and 28th. I remembered that there was and I picked up 26th. The snow was slanting out of the northeast from the ‘goop close above our heads.
Blurred trees and power lines. . . were somehow starkly defined. . . beneath the snow storm’s belly.
Windshield heaters were dead. But luckily, the blizzard snow was not sticking to the glass.
“Hey . . let me know when you see a school on your side. Then ‘ time hack me ‘ every five-second past that school yard.”
A handful of seconds skipped by.
“There it is . . yard’s full of little kids . . start your time hack . . . NOW ! “
Just east of the school yard, I counted five streets zipping by. Then Monaco Parkway’s boulevard. The perpendicular streets disappeared . . I figure eight more seconds . . and keep 26th Avenue just to the right of the nose. Whoopee ! No television towers to reach up and grab us now.
Gimmie . . full flaps.”
Ahead, dimly glowing within swirling snow ahead . . three green lights marking the close end of Runway 8.
We crossed 20 feet above the center light . . while aligned to the runway center line with a cross-controlled right rudder… to make one of the best landings I’ve ever had. Reversed thrust. Rolled out.
In a swirling snow ’ white-out,’ it took extra time to locate Stapleton’s terminal.
In no hurry to smack anything . . we eventually taxied along to see a flashing red light showing it was closed.
But a mechanic materialized in that significant white-out… waved me into a gate with his wands.
A bagpipe skirl of sound spiraled down to silence.
“Skipper . . my hat’s definitely off to you. I don’t know how you were able to do all that. ”
“Hmmm. I used to fly for an ornery old Chief Pilot who made me learn each route,” I said. . . while hanging up my headset . . and scratching the top of my head where it itched.
G. C. Kehmeier
United Airlines, Retired.
Acc’t # 2: The Civil Aeronautics Board report
United Airlines Flight 227 (N7030U), a scheduled passenger flight from LaGuardia Airport New York City to San Francisco International Airport, California, crashed short of the runway while attempting a scheduled landing at Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah on November 11, 1965.
Flight 227, operated by a Boeing 727-2, registration N7030U, departed LaGuardia Airport at 0835 Mountain Standard Time (1035EST) for San Francisco, California, with scheduled stops in Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, and Salt Lake City. The flight to Denver was routine. In Denver a new flight crew took control of the plane: Captain Gale C. Kehmeier, First Officer Philip E. Spicer, and Second Officer Ronald R. Christensen. The flight took off from Denver at 1654 MST.
During the flight, the First Officer was flying the aircraft under the direction of the Captain. At 1735 the plane was cleared to descend to 16,000 feet by the Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center.
At 1747, now under the direction of terminal control, the plane was cleared to approach. At 1748, in response to the controller’s request for the plane’s altitude, the pilot replied “Okay we’ve slowed to two fifty (knots) and we’re at ten (10,000 feet) we have the runway in sight now, we’ll cancel and standby with your for traffic.” The plane began to descend, but its rate of descent was approximately 2,300 feet per minute, nearly three times the recommended rate of descent.
At approximately 1749:30, the plane passed the outer marker 5.7 miles from the runway threshold at approximately 8,200 feet, over 2,000 feet above the normal glideslope.
At approximately 1751, one minute prior to impact, the plane passed 6,300 feet; it was still 1,300 feet above the normal glide slope and still descending at 2,300 feet per minute. Around this time the first officer reached toward to advance the thrust levers to increase thrust, but the captain brushed his hand aside and said “Not yet.”
At 30 seconds prior to impact the plane was 1,000 feet above and 1.25 miles from the runway. The captain indicated in post-crash interviews that at this point he moved the thrust levers to the takeoff power position, but the engines failed to respond properly. However, both the testimonies of the other members of the flight crew and the data from the flight data recorder indicate that the attempt to add power occurred only about 10 seconds before impact.
At 1752 the plane struck the ground 335 feet short of the runway. The aircraft slid 2,838 feet before coming to a stop. The separation of the landing gear and the No. 1 engine was the result of impact loading in excess of their design structural strength. The failure of the landing gear caused the rupture of fuel lines in the fuselage. The resulting fire, rather than the impact of the crash, accounted for all 43 fatalities.
This accident was blamed entirely on the bad judgment of the Captain, Gale C. Kehmeier, for conducting the final approach from a position that was too high and too close to the airport to permit a descent at the normal and safe rate. He allowed the plane to fly the final approach segment (in visual conditions) at a descent rate of 2,300 feet per minute (3 times the safe descent rate). When the plane crossed the outer marker, which marks the final approach segment, it was 2,000 feet too high.
The First Officer, who was flying the aircraft under the Captain’s direction, attempted to add engine thrust. But the Captain told him no and brushed his hands off the thrust levers. The Captain took over the controls during the last few seconds, but it was too late to avoid crashing short of the runway. The plane impacted with a vertical acceleration force of 14.7-g.
That severe impact force broke off the left main landing gear and caused the right main gear to thrust up through the fuselage, rupturing pressurized fuel lines in the process. While the plane continued to slide down the runway on the nose gear and fuselage, pressurized fuel ignited inside the cabin, turning a survivable accident into a fatal accident. Many of the 50 people who successfully evacuated were severely burned.
The CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) accident investigation revealed that the Captain had a checkered training history. He had failed his initial jet transition training course, and was returned to flying the DC-6. Later on, he also failed to pass a routine annual instrument proficiency check.