ACCIDENT OF N903WA (46929/107)
October 31st 1979, time: 05:42

NTSB report / statistics

Flight 2605 departed Los Angeles at 01.40h for a flight to Mexico City. Because of refurbishing work on Runway 23L, the flight was cleared for a Runway 23R approach. Descend through a fog bank was continued below the 600ft minimum for instrument approaches. The aircraft touched down with the left maingear in the grass left of 23L and with the right maingear on the runway shoulder. Go-around power was added and the nose lifted 10-11deg. The right maingear then collided with a truck located on the runway. The gear leg separated and struck the right tailplane and elevator, causing substantial damage. The aircraft banked to the right until it struck the left wing struck the cab of an excavator, 1500m from the runway threshold, continued an crashed into a building and caught fire. PROBABLE CAUSE: "Non-compliance with the meteorological minima for the approach procedure, as cleared; failure to comply with the aircraft's operating procedures during the approach phase, and landing on a runway closed to traff

Total airframe hrs: 24614 hours
Cycles: 7345 cycles
Crew: 9 fatalities / 11 on board
Passengers: 63 fatalities / 77 on board
Total: 72 fatalities / 88 on board
Location: Mexico City-Benito Juarez IAP (Mexico)
Phase: Landing
Nature: Scheduled Passenger
Flight: New York-John F. Kennedy IAP, NY - Mexico City-Benito Juarez IAP (Flightnumber 2605)

Source: Aviation Safety Network / NTSB

Mystery around Flight Captain Gilbert

Fatal error during "night owl" flight - pilot went down on closed runway

On Thursday, it was still inscrutable to all experts, how it came to the catastrophe in Mexico City on Wednesday. "It is incomprehensible, how an experienced pilot, who is often flying to Mexico City, tried to land on a closed runway", declared Western Air Lines vice president, Ray Silvius. But this is what the 53-year-old Flight Captain Gilbert did in the fog early in the morning. This was declared by the Mexican state department of flight safety on Thursday.

The DC-10 went down on a runway, which was not usable for flight operations as it was been working on it. The tragedy caused 74 deaths: 71 passengers/crew members and three workers.
Until touchdown, it was a flight like every day. But as Western Airlines 2605 - also known as "El Tecolate" (night owl) due to its early arrival - was coming to an end, it came to a catastrophe. "Three or Four minutes before landing, there was fog all around", said Pedro Ruiz from Costa Rica, one of the survivors. Then, the aircraft started to wobble and half a minute later, it happened: "The airframe crashed on the ground."
Pedro Ruiz climbed out of the wreck which broke into three large parts. Most of the 17 survivors were in the rear part of the aircraft, which didn't burn down. Flight attendant Eduardo Valencia, an amateur body builder, was sitting there too. Only with his hands, he opened a hole in the aircraft which enabled some passengers to escape.
After the analysis of the flight recorder data, experts think that the accident happened like this:
The DC-10 approached the airport of the Mexican capital. The tower told the pilot, who was employed by the airline for more than 30 years, to go down on runway 23R. Then the tower asked the pilot, if he could see the runway. The answer from the aircraft "no". The jet tried to gain height again and began with a new approach. But he didn't went down on 23R, but on 23L, which wasn't far away.
Then, the pilot saw the building machines on the runway, which was closed since October 19th, and tried to pull up the aircraft again. This didn't succeed. The DC-10 brushed a truck and lost its landing gear. The aircraft left 23L skidded over 23R and crashed against a Hangar. The aircraft broke into many parts, some of which landed in a nearby postal office under construction.
Western Airlines' employees marked out that the DC-10 was checked 93 flight hours before: "I can only say that there were no indications for any problems with the aircraft", said Linda Dozier, the airline's press speaker. Vice president Silvius emphasized that all DC-10 of the airline have been inspected after an order from the FAA after the accident from May 25th in Chicago. At that time, 273 passengers were killed when a DC-10 crashed.

Source: November 2nd 1979, Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung, Hanover/Germany (freely traduced)