On March 5, 1980 Trans American flight 209 from Los Angeles made a miraculous landing in Chicago after the pilot Captain Clarence Ovuer and First Officer Roger Murdock suffered incapacitation due to food poisoning during the flight.
One of the flight attendants, Elaine Dickinson, managed to activate the aircraft’s auto pilot while a passenger on the flight, Ted Stryker, took the controls. Stryker had been a military fighter pilot flying attack missions over Macho Grande.
Though he’d never flown a commercial aircraft, Ted Stryker was ably assisted from the ground by air traffic controller Steve McCroskey and by Stryker’s former military commanding officer Rex Kramer.
- Stryker was in no condition to fly that plane. He’d been drinking to excess. He was depressed, and openly sharing his stories with a series of passengers – none of whom, fortunately, spoke up when the time came to put him in control of that plane.
- Just that week McCroskey had quit drinking, smoking, doing amphetamines and sniffing glue. Kramer’s advice landing the aircraft is timeless: “flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.”
Here’s a re-enactment of the miracle landing based on the cockpit voice recorder and contemporaneous notes and interviews:
Every one of the passengers and crew on board Trans American flight 209 made it down safely. Each of us has been affected by this story and we should take a moment to honor the achievements of everyone involved. That’s the day we all learned not to eat the fish. Unfortunately some documentaries of the incident have had scenes deleted where lessons may have been lost..
Sadly, Ted Stryker was later declared mentally incompetent and institutionalized. He claimed the legal action taken against him was meant to silence him from blowing the whistle on unsafe practices in the development of commercial space travel. Fortunately he found himself in the position of saving another flight.