One of the great aviation mysteries is what happened to Eastern Airlines flight 980, which crashed into the mountains near La Paz, Bolivia in 1985. On-site investigations didn’t commence for months after the crash and the airframe wasn’t discovered for 25 years. The cause of the demise of the Boeing 727 was never positively confirmed.
On New Year’s Day 1985, Eastern 980 — a flight from Asunción to Miami via La Paz and Guayaquil — departed from Asunción at 5:57 pm with 19 passengers (including the wife of the US Ambassador to Paraguay and 2 pilots) and 10 crew.
At 7:37pm the plane’s pilots told controllers at their first stop in La Paz that they were 10 minutes from landing. They were cleared to descend to 18,000 feet.
The plane veered significantly during its descent and struck Mount Illimani at 19,600 feet killing all souls aboard. The crash is notable as the highest controlled flight into terrain commercial aircraft accident ever. The Eastern flight was 25 miles from the airport.
Eastern Airlines Boeing 727-100 prior to pushback at Chicago-O’Hare Airport, copyright SDMullis May 1982
The plane’s black boxes were never found — until this past week when adventurers Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner discovered pieces.
The site is difficult to access. The investigation didn’t commence for several months. By that time winter had come and passed, with the wreckage was spread out and under 20 to 30 feet of snow.
After 31 years, pieces of the cockpit voice and data recorders were finally recovered. Two guys set off on an adventure seeking the black boxes. And two days ago these two guys posted their success at the end of their third day of searching.
After we’d given up for the evening, Isaac did something he’d done hundreds of times over the previous three days, turning over pieces of metal to check their color.
Only this piece he turned over was orange, just like the previous five pieces, and it had cables sticking out of it. On a plastic wrapping around the cables was the writing “CKPT VO RCDR”.
Sweet confirmation…We’d accidentally done the thing we tried to do.
We do not yet know whether any usable information will be recoverable and so whether or not we’ll have any information that can confirm speculation about what happened to Eastern Airlines flight 980 — whether the pilots had bad information about the terrain and were unable to pull up in time when they came upon the mountain, whether they tried to avoid bad weather, or if it was something else entirely that led to the tragedy.
The whole blog of the adventure is worth scanning.
(HT: Free in Freedom)