Yesterday, during the height of the fever pitch over Hurricane Irma’s landfall over Puerto Rico, a story about a little plane that could captivated the internet.
As Hurricane Irma raged in the Atlantic on an unyielding path towards the northern coast of the Puerto Rico, one brave Delta pilot and his cabin of passengers set out to prove they were the little plane that could. Undaunted by the Category 5 Hurricane menacing directly towards them, Delta flight 302 continued on its path from New York’s JFK airport to Puerto Rico’s San Juan, seeking to sneak in before the worst of the storm hit.
Delta flight 302 was not the only flight headed inbound for San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport but it was the most intrepid. A few other flights attempted to slip in just before Hurricane Irma made landfall but many of them, including two JetBlue flights and one American Airlines flight, were forced to turn around. Forced with a choice between a standoff against one of the strongest Hurricanes in history and an unfulfilled flight path, all but one determined 737 chose the latter.
Jetblue & American Airlines flights aborting San Juan landing plans and returning back.
Online, the story of Delta flight 302 quickly went viral, spreading as fast as the voracious Hurricane Irma herself. It soon became the fearless and perhaps foolhardy Delta 302 vs. the mother of all Hurricanes. This classic David vs. Goliath story had all the makings off a classic Hollywood film: our brave protagonist going where no one else dares to face off up close with death itself. It’s no wonder the story soon exploded, racking up over 8,000 re-tweets for Jason Rabinowitz, a self-described “AvGeek,” and Director of Airline Data at Routehappy who noticed DL302 early on and began chronicling its journey.
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) September 6, 2017
As Jason started tracking the flight in real time, he began to amass an engaged and invested audience. Early on, observers were incredulous, assuming the errant flight in the Atlantic mid-way between JFK and San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport would turn around at some point. It did not.
Instead, it quickly became a race against the clock. DL302 continued southbound, inching closer and closer towards the raging torrent. Despite Delta 302’s casual non-chalantness towards the storm, Irma was no wimp.
With sustained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma was just 5 miles per hour short of Hurricane Allen’s record for an Atlantic storm. However, at about 400 miles wide, Irma dwarves its much smaller rival, Allen. Irma also has a penchant for breaking records, with “sustained 185 mph winds for more than 24 hours, a record length of time for a hurricane in the Atlantic” that threatens to “create one of the largest mass exoduses in U.S. history.” Nevertheless, Delta 302, cabin, crew, and passengers were undeterred.
As DL302 began to thread the needle and arrange logistics for a landing conditions were rapidly deteriorating. In spite of all of this, the crew managed to land safely in San Juan.
That however, was not the end of our fearless 737’s story. DL302 decided it had not had enough and set out to brave its gusty nemesis again. With little time left before conditions became impermissible, the Delta crew and San Juan Airport staff arranged a lightning quick turnaround that resembled a Formula One pit-stop.
After a total time on the ground, including both taxi-in and taxi-out, of only 52 minutes, Delta Flight 302 set back out into the heart of the storm.
Fortunately for the cabin and crew, DL302 snuggly hung to the contours of clear air, managing to thread the needle again to escape the storm’s grasp.
Now free, Delta Flight 302 head right back for its departure point, New York’s JFK airport.
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