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Continental 727 Crashes in Denver

By Patrick Mondout

At just after 4 p.m. on August 7, 1975, Continental Airlines Flight 426 crashed after takeoff from the Denver's Stapleton International Airport. All 134 persons aboard the aircraft survived the crash though 15 persons were injured seriously.

The Boeing 727 climbed to about 100 feet above runway 35L and then crashed near the departure end of the runway.  The aircraft was damaged substantially.

At the time of the accident, a thunderstorm with associated rain showers was moving over the northern portion of the airport. The thunderstorm was surrounded by numerous other thunderstorms and associated rain showers but none of these were in the immediate vicinity of the airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this accident was the aircraft's encounter, immediately following takeoff, with severe wind shear at an altitude and airspeed which precluded recovery to level flight; the wind shear caused the aircraft to descend at a rate which could not be overcome even though the aircraft was flown at or near its maximum lift capability throughout the encounter. The wind shear was generated by the outflow from a thunderstorm which was over the aircraft's departure path.

Continental 727

What's left of Continental's N88777 as seen in the Mohave desert in 1984.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at


Two flights preceded Continental 426 on the takeoff from runway 35L. About 4:05, the local controller cleared Braniff International Flight 67, a Boeing 727-100, for takeoff; he reported that the winds were 250" at 15 knots with gusts to 22 knots. At 4:06:33, Braniff 67 reported, "OK, you got some pretty good up and downdrafts out here from two, three hundred feet." The local controller acknowledged Braniff 67's report. Continental 426 did not receive Braniff 67's report, because the flights were on different radio frequencies.

About 4:07, the local controller cleared Frontier Airlines Flight 509, a Convair 580, to takeoff on runway 35L. The controller informed Frontier 509 that the winds were 280" at 13 knots with gusts to 22 knots and that Braniff 67 had reported updrafts and downdrafts at 200 to 300 feet. Frontier 509 acknowledged the information. Continental 426 also did not receive this information, because it was operating on the ground control frequency.

At 4:08:58, Continental 426 informed the local controller that it was ready for takeoff. The local controller cleared the flight to hold in the takeoff position.

At 4:09:15, Frontier 509 reported, "...there's a pretty good shear line there about halfway down 35." The local controller responded, " got an altitude on it?" Frontier 509 replied, "Oh about just like that other airplane called it, about 200 feet." At 4:09:31, Continental 426 transmitted, "426 copied."  

A 4:10:11, the local controller cleared Continental 426 for takeoff. He informed the flight that winds were 230 at 12 knots and, "there have been reports of pretty stout up and downdrafts and that shear out there at 200 to 300 feet." The flight acknowledge the clearance and the information.

The crew of Continental 426  used maximum takeoff thrust and later stated that all instrument readings were normal when a check was made at 80 knots.

According to first officer Robert W. Shelton, the aircraft left the runway just after it passed over the interstate highway, which was 4760 feet from the threshold of runway 35L. He saw a positive rate of climb and at 4:11:05 he called, "gear up." Captain Robert E. Pries said the aircraft entered heavy rain about the time the first officer executed the rotation maneuver (which raises the nose for takeoff). Captain Pries turned on the windshield wipers and, in response to the first officer's command, the moved the gear hand to the up position.

According to the flightcrew, the aircraft climbed normally to 150 to 200 feet above the runway. The captain the felt the aircraft sink and saw that the airspeed was reduced. He took control of the aircraft, advanced the power levers to maximum thrust, and lower the nose. The aircraft continued to descend, and the captain attempted to increase the pitch attitude.

Continental 727-224

Another Boeing 727-224, similar to Flight 426 as seen at Denver's Stapleton Airport in January 1975.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at


The aircraft struck the ground at 4:11:18 on the right shoulder of runway 35L, just south of the departure end of the runway. It slid almost 2000 feet and came to rest on an airport road.

Six passengers received lumbar or thoracic vertebral fractures; on of these passengers also received serious injuries to her right leg and both of her feet. Two passengers received fractured ankles. Two passengers, one of whom also had a severe neck strain, were hospitalized for more than 48 hours with multiple contusions, abrasions, and bruises.

According to second officer William R. Kocar, when the aircraft came to rest he heard a loud explosive sound and screaming from the passenger cabin. He said he was dazed and shaken and that he attempted to open the cockpit door, "but I don't know what I was holding onto when I was trying to open it; I don't know if I had the door knob." He then yelled "Fire, let's get out of here!" because he thought the aircraft was on fire (miraculously, it was not).

After the captain tried to shut off the aircraft engines, he escaped through the left cockpit sliding window; Kocar and Shelton escaped through the right cockpit window. They then assisted passengers escaping off the wings.

The captain returned to the cockpit through the left cockpit window and again tried unsuccessfully to shut off the engines. He then opened the cockpit door and assisted one of the forward flight attendants from under the coat closet and directed the other out the right cockpit window. He left the aircraft and discussed the engine problems with firemen, who had responded to the crash alarm. The captain once again returned to the cockpit but could not shut off the engines. The firemen then injected fire extinguishing foam and water into the engines and they stopped.

Source: Adapted from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report NTSB-AAR-76-14.

Continental 426 at a Glance
DateAugust 7, 1975
Flight number426
Registration NumberN88777
Crew Fatalities0 of 7
Passenger Fatalities0 of 127
Total Fatalities0 of 134

Air Safety References:
Bartelski, Jan. Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Airlife Publishing: England, 2001.
Beaty, David. The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents. Airlife Publishing: England, 1996.
Cushing, Steven. Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.
Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
Gero, David. Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950. Sutton, 2003.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 1). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1995.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 2). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1996.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 3). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1999.
Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
Owen, David. Air Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition. Motorbooks International, 2002.
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.


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Airline: Continental

Location: Denver's Stapleton Airport

Aircraft: Boeing 727-224

Date: August 7, 1975

Total Fatalities: 0 of 134

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