The DC-10 never had a chance. It was a fine aircraft, even though at that point in time it was still under a cloud of controversy resulting from incidents in Paris and Chicago. But when you lose that much wing you’re no longer in a flying machine, you’re in an aluminum rock. That’s how the Ten came in: straight down and spiraling.
But the 747, as I was telling Wilbur Wright just the other day, ranks up there with the DC-3 Gooney Bird and the Fokker-Aerospatiale HST as one of the most reliable hunks of airframe ever designed. It’s true that this one came out of the collision in better shape than the DC-10, and there is no doubt it was mortally wounded. But the grand old whale managed to pull up into straight and level flight and maintain it. Who knows what might have been possible if that mountain hadn’t got in the way?
And it retained a surprising amount of structural integrity as it belly-flopped and rolled over–a maneuver no one at Boeing had envisioned in their design parameters. The proof of this could be seen in the state of the passengers: there were upwards of thirty bodies without a single limb detached. If it hadn’t caught fire, there might even have been some faces intact.
I’ve always thought it would be a spectacular show to witness in your final seconds. Would you really rather die in bed?
Well, maybe so. One way of dying is probably much like any other.