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Remembering Delta Flight 1141 Crash At DFW Airport

LP Phillips, KRLD L.P. Phillips
  L.P. Phillips is an Edward R. Murrow Award winning investigative...
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NORTH TEXAS (KRLD) – At 9:06 the morning of August 31, 1988 the KRLD news sounder blared.  The anchor announced the weather was a sunny 73 degrees.  Then breaking news hit.

“There has been a problem with one of the planes landing at DFW airport.” he said.  In reality it was a problem with a plane departing.  Delta flight 1141, a Boeing 727 had crashed.

Nearby, office worker Clyde Lane happened to be looking outside.  “I was watching out my office window, this plane taking off.” Lane said.  “The tail never seemed to pick up properly….and then the tail hit the ground and exploded.”

He looked in horror as a ball of fire, followed by black smoke, began to rise from the crash site. He had just seen a crash that killed 14 people and injured several dozen others.

In the 25 years that have passed, there are many who survived the flight but don’t like to talk about it.  The pain has not been dulled by a quarter century.  But Jackson Mississippi dentist Dr. David Mosal is eager to share his story, eager to tell everyone to enjoy every day because life is short.  And as he knows it can be cut even shorter.

Listen to audio from KRLD’s L.P. Phillips

Mosal had boarded a plane in Jackson for the first leg of a trip that would take him to Jackson Hole Wyoming for some elk hunting.

“We started to take off, ” recalled Mosal. “The plane didn’t have any lift.  It went up and then down then up and down, up and down like three times.”

Cockpit tapes released by the National Transportation Safety Board at the time show the pilots knew there was a problem that was not correctable.  The NTSB would later find the flight crew had been flirting with flight attendants instead of reviewing the takeoff list.  They forgot to set the wing flaps for takeoff.  The plane was doomed as it rolled down runway 18-left. “We’re not going to make it!” screamed one.  “More power!” said the other.

Nothing could stop the disaster that unfolded next.  Witnesses say the plane bounced three times, as Mosal described.  Then it hit the ground at takeoff speed.

“It went from feeling like, sounding like concrete to hitting on grass.”  Mosal said.  “We were skidding.  You couldn’t tell what you were going to hit.”

The tail broke away, the cockpit bent.  The crumpled wreckage came to rest in the grass.  Survivors say many of the seats broke loose and smashed into one another.  But, though bruised and battered, most were able to help themselves out.  NTSB records show 18 were uninjured.  50 suffered minor injuries, 26 needed to be hospitalized.

On the plane, Mosal could not believe he was not injured.  However, his attention quickly turned to the gushing jet fuel pouring from the torn wing.  The smell of smoke confirmed the plane would soon be engulfed in flames.  He turned to his side.  The pregnant woman seated beside him seemed to be trapped in the mangled seats and could not free himself.  She handed Mosal her son and pleaded that he carry the 2-year old to safety.  Mosal followed her wish.

The force of the impact left the front door of the plane wedged shut and the emergency chute useless.  Mosal says a gaping hole in the top of the plane seemed to be the only way out.

“I jumped and put my left arm through the hole.” he said.  He was able to pull himself and the child through the hole, only to become stuck.  He says someone shoved his bottom until he could get free and jump to safety.

Mosal says he ran 150 yards to other survivors and handed them the child, and began running back to the plane to see if he could help get the woman to safety. He didn’t need to go far.

“She had gotten out some way.  And so we met each other just by luck, I guess.”  he said.  After a brief hug he took mother to child.  The all sat in the grass and cried.

Like other survivors of trauma and near-death, Mosal has no trouble starting to talk, but as he describes the scene and the aftermath, the words become onerous.  “I don’t know, man.” he says.  It makes me nervous talking about it again.  When I first got back, I just couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to hug my kids and hug my wife.”

Flying was an issue for two years.  He finally decided elk hunting in Montana was worth the risk and climbed aboard a plane.  He has been flying since.

“Even to this day, 25 years later, patients come in complaining how hot it is in Jackson Mississippi. And said ‘be thankful that you can feel that heat and be thankful you can see the sun because there was a second in my life when I would never see that again.”

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