Delta 431 landed in San Juan a few hours ahead of Hurricane Irma on Wednesday. According to Delta, the aircraft faced “nine miles of visibility and light rain. Winds were around 24 knots with gusts up to 31 knots — all well below operating limits for the 737-900ER to safely operate.”
That hardly captures the scenario. Earlier gusts had been up over 40 knots. But they had a window.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 6, 2017
The plane then prepped for a quick turn taking off as Delta 302. And the flight and its captain became an internet sensation. It was the last commercial departure out of San Juan. 30 people had flown into the airport on this aircraft, 173 passengers were flying out.
Winds were picking up. The brother in law of aircraft captain Chuck Joyce says, “They definitely knew this was going to be tight,”
Passengers ran through an empty airport to board, and the cabin crew got them in their seats and battened down in record time, passengers said later.
“I’ve never seen people get on so quickly, and once people were on, everyone so quiet,”
…the outer band of the hurricane had passed over the airport, and a long narrow gap opened to the north — between the outer band and the core of the incoming hurricane. It was up through this gap in the weather that Mr. Joyce would fly the Boeing 737.
Here’s the plane taking off.
In what almost looks like a real life episode of Jackass here’s the narrow path the plane had to avoid the hurricane — between the outer band and core of Irma.
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) September 6, 2017
Inside the cabin passengers are heard saying “Goodbye Puerto Rico” and “We are in the air.”
According to one passengers, “I put my head in my lap and just covered my ears… On a scale of one to ten on that flight I would say I was an 11.”
While it’s amazing to see unfold — one commenter on Twitter suggested this was Captain Chuck Joyce to Sully Sullenberger saying “hold my beer” — it’s in fact more a testament to modern technology, weather forecasting procedures, and standard skill and well-tried procedures.
It wasn’t a cowboy move, it wasn’t the pilot going rogue, it was consultation between weather forecasters, dispatch, air traffic control and the pilot.