Last night, at Jacksonville Naval Air Station south of downtown Jacksonville, a Boeing 737-800 ran off a runway and slid into the St. Johns River. Fortunately, all survived with only a few minor injuries. The crash occurred at 9:40pm EDT.
Miracle on the St. Johns" in an allusion to the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009. According to the Jacksonville Times-Union (blue link above) the passengers were standing on the wings awaiting rescue as they did in NYC ten years ago.
The Hudson accident was caused by an unavoidable bird strike. The Jacksonville crash was, at least in part, caused by the decision of the flight crew to land in a thunderstorm.
Here is a preliminary rundown of the meteorology of the situation. Let's begin with the radar.
|Weather observations are in Universal Time. So, 9:40pm EDT = 01:40 UTC|
There is no evidence of a downburst, at least so far. The surface winds from the METARs do not suggest it nor does the radar show evidence of one.
If it wasn't a downburst, what might have caused the crash, at least from a meteorological perspective?
- Very heavy rain causing skidding or hydroplaning. This seems possible since the plane ran off the runway.
- Poor visibility during the approach and landing.
- Shifting winds -- while not a downburst, winds frequently shift or vary in speed and directions in thunderstorms which is one of their inherent hazards.
- A lightning strike. While the last commercial airline crash due to lightning was in 1967, a strike causes additional work for the flight crew. During landing, this could be a serious issue.
The pilots should have seen the lightning from a considerable distance. The GOES-E weather satellite shows quite a few strikes in the immediate area (yellow, red, blue dots).
These are some preliminary ideas. The NTSB is, fortunately, going to do a full investigation.