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National Airlines 727 Crashes Into Atlantic

By Patrick Mondout

On May 8, 1978 at about 9:20 p.m., a National Airlines 727 with 52 passengers and 6 crew crashed into Escambia Bay on approach to the Pensacola Airport. Three of the passengers drowned while awaiting rescue.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this accident was the flightcrew's unprofessionally conducted nonprecision instrument approach; the captain and the crew failed to monitor the descent rate and altitude, and the first officer failed to provide the captain with required altitude and approach performance callouts (each 100 feet below 500 should have been verbally acknowledged). The crew failed to check and utilize all instruments available for altitude awareness, turned off the ground proximity warning system, and failed to configure the aircraft properly and in a timely manner for the approach.

National 727

'Elaine' - a National 727-235 similar to the one involved in this crash, as seen in at National Airport in December, 1977.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at

Contributing to the accident was the radar controller's failure to provide advance notice of the start-descent point which accelerated the pace of the crew's cockpit activities after the passage of the final approach fix .

At 920:15, the ground proximity warning system (GPWS) whooper sounded, and the " Pull up, pull up" voice warning from the 727 began. The GPWS warning continued until 9:20:24. During this nine second period only two remarks appeared on the CVR transcript: At 9:20:19, Captain George Kunz said "Did you (get) your thing", and at 9:20:21, First Officer (F/O) Leonard Sanderson said, "Descent rate's keeping it up."

Flight Engineer (F/E) James Stockwell stated that he turned off the GPWS and that he did this in response to what he believed was Captain Kunz's command to turn the system off. He also testified that he believed at the time the aircraft was still above 1,000 feet.


727 altimeter. Are we at 480 feet or 1480 feet?


NTSB photo


At 9:20:31, F/O Sanderson said, "I... we're down to fifty feet." Two seconds later, the aircraft hit the water.

Captain Kunz said that he misread his altimeter at 500 feet and believed he saw 1,500 feet. He stated that "When that figure got on my mind as I ran my scan after that, I was seeing 400 and 300 and they were 14(00) and 13(00) in my mind.  I was looking at the needle instead of looking at the 1,000-foot marker in it. I didn't actually look at the thousand-foot pointer at that time. I just glanced down at the hundred- foot pointer.'' (See figure on right.)

F/O Sanderson said that he failed to make the required altitude callouts, because he was never aware of the fact that the aircraft was below 1,000 feet until just before impact.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report NTSB-AAR-78-13.

National Airlines 193 at a Glance
AirlineNational Airlines
DateMay 8, 1978
Flight number193
Registration NumberN4744
Crew Fatalities0 of 6
Passenger Fatalities3 of 52
Total Fatalities3 of 52

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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Flight 193 the next morning in the Atlantic

NTSB photo

Airline: National Airlines

Location: Escambia Bay, Florida

Aircraft: Boeing 727-235

Date: May 8, 1978

Total Fatalities: 3 of 52

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