The Tragic Case of Birgenair Flight 301

On February 6, 1996, 176 passengers and 13 crew members boarded a plane in the Dominican Republic for an overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany. As the crew prepared the cabin for takeoff and weary passengers leaned back in their seats to get some rest, the pilot noticed an anomaly with one of the airspeed indicators. He chose not to abort the flight, which proved to be a fatal decision. Approximately 10 minutes later, as the airliner climbed to 4,700 feet, the captain’s airspeed indicator began transmitting conflicting information, prompting the plane’s auto-pilot to determine that the plane was traveling too fast and gradually raising the nose to slow it down. Within minutes, the 757 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 189 people on board. An NTSB investigation determined that mud dauber wasps had built a nest in one of the pitot tubes — similar to speedometers — that measure altitude and airspeed. Since the crash of Birgenair Flight 301, measures have been taken to make inspections for pest invasion part of the standard maintenance process on all planes.