Air traffic controller Jacob Crispen looked to the west, out of the windows of New Orleans International Airport’s control tower and observed the black line of clouds two miles away. They continued their march eastward toward the airport. Every few seconds, lightning shot out.
An Omega Airlines flight was three miles from the airport and approaching from the east. If it didn’t land in the next few minutes, the storm would close the airport and they would have to either hold until the storm passed, or fly to their alternate airport.
Omega was several thousand feet higher than other flights would normally be on their straight in final to runway two-eight. It seemed impossible they would lose their excess altitude and make a normal landing.
Crispen considered giving Omega the option of flying a three-sixty-degree turn to give them additional time to lose altitude, but that would have them landing after the storm hit. “Omega 1194, winds two one zero at fifteen, gusting to twenty-five. You’re still cleared to land.” His foot tapped a steady beat.
“Omega 1194,” one of the two pilots radioed back.
The 737’s wings rocked. They were two miles from landing, but their altitude readout on Crispen’s radar showed them at two thousand feet. Most aircraft would be at eight hundred feet. He couldn’t believe they were continuing the approach.
“Omega 1194, wind one eight zero at twenty gusting to thirty.” Crosswind gusts in excess of twenty-five knots made landing difficult.
The plane continued toward the airport.
The wind howled as it rounded the control tower windows. Crispen considered evacuating the tower and seeking the safety of the offices at ground level in case the wind toppled the tower, or blew out its windows. After Omega landed, or aborted their approach, he’d scramble down the stairs.
Omega was a mile from the airport and a thousand feet above it. They should be less than five hundred feet above the ground. The plane’s wings continued to rock. The wall of rain from the thunderstorm was half a mile away. “Omega 1194, wind one seven zero at two two. We just had a gust of forty.” Crispen stood and stepped from foot to foot.
The flight crossed the end of the runway two hundred feet in the air. Most aircraft would’ve been at fifty feet. It continued descending, the wings rolling left and right.
“Go around. Go around,” Crispen said without keying the microphone. He could only order the flight to do so if the runway wasn’t clear of traffic.
Over halfway down the runway and twenty feet off the ground, Omega’s nose aligned with the runway. The aircraft descended fast, hitting the runway with a massive jolt. It bounced ten feet into the air and hovered while continuing on its path, before dropping to the concrete once more.
Do they have enough runway to stop?
The spoilers on top of the wings lifted, and the slots in the side of the engine opened, signaling the pilots had selected reverse thrust.
The aircraft swerved back and forth.
Crispen’s mouth gaped when Omega went off the right side of the runway. Pieces of smashed runway edge lights flew into the air.
The thunderstorm swallowed Omega in the heavy rain. Visibility dropped, making it difficult for Crispen to observe Omega’s roll out.
Without taking his gaze off the ghost-like shape of the plane continuing down the side of the runway, he lifted the phone with a trembling hand and speed dialed a number.
“Fire and Rescue,” a male voice said.
“This is the tower.” Crispen’s voice was louder than necessary. “Omega Airlines 737 went off the side of the runway and may need assistance.”
“Location, damage, and souls onboard?”
“They just came to a stop at the west end of runway two-eight. Aircraft appears intact. Souls onboard unknown.”
He hung up. “Omega 1194, tower. Rescue equipment is on their way. Do you require assistance?”
No one answered.