Obit of the Day: Hero Over the Potomac
Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the iced-filled Potomac River on January 13, 1982. With visibiity at near-zero the Boeing 737 was airborne for only 30 seconds before crashing into Washington, D.C.’s 14th Street Bridge, crushing seven cars and taking part of the bridge rail and wall with it. The flight, carrying 79 passengers and crew, then plunged into the water.
Only six passengers made it to the surface and the first rescue vehicle to arrive on scene, was a D.C. Park Police helicopter flown by Dave Usher and crewed by George Windsor. The two men rescued all the survivors of Flight 90, putting themselves at risk in the process. While Mr. Usher managed to hover the copter just feet over the water in terrible weather, Mr. Windsor dropped a safety ring to passengers who were then dragged to shore. When the men went to rescue the final survivor, Patricia Felch, Mr. Windsor - who was not wearing a safety harness connecting him to the copter - reached out over the river and lifted Ms. Felch out of the water.
(The tragedy did not lack for heroes. Congressional Budget Office staff Lenny Skutnik, who was watching from the shore, tore off his clothes and jumped into the Potomac to drag Priscilla Tirado the final feet to shore after she lost her grip on the ring. Another passenger, later identified as Atlanta businessman Arland D. Williams, Jr., handed the safety line to others ensuring their survival. Mr. Windsor and Mr. Usher returned to find him but he had sunk beneath the water.)
At the end of the day, the Flight 90 accident claimed the lives of 74 people on the plane as well as seven more who were killed when their cars were crushed on the bridge.
Mr. Windsor and Mr. Usher did not know at the time that their rescue efforts were caught live on television, making them into national heroes. They were later honored by the Dept. of the Interior and other D.C. organizations for their efforts.
The FAA later determined that the conditions, poor decisions by the crew, and the failure to regularly de-ice the plane as it waited for takeoff were all causes of the crash. Because of the Air Florida crash several reforms were made in de-icing, crew staffing (the pilots had little experience and were both in their thirties), and the creation of a better water rescue harness for helicopters.
George Windsor, who retired from the Park Police in 1993 moved to South Carolina and became a police officer, died on August 24, 2014 at the age of 74.
Sources: Washington Post and Wikipedia