AIR FLORIDA FLIGHT 90 CRASH: Pilots faulted in failing to activate icing warning thus causing the plane to take off without enough power; dropped onto 14th Street Bridge and into Potomac on January 13, 1982

Remarkable video by Chester Panzer in many of these news reports from the scene of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash

It was a January snowstorm that was causing the Washington, D.C. region to come to a sliding halt as the area dealt with a rare crash of a jetliner and a fatal Metro crash, both taking place within an hour of each other. The crashes and the confusion revealed major problems in the communications ability of rescue agencies in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The crash of Air Florida Flight 90 exposed the problems of airlines, airports, and air traffic control in dealing with icing of aircraft waiting to take off. The fatal crash of Air Florida into the 14th Street Bridge also revealed several heroes, one of which was Lenny Skutnik, who was honored by President Ronald in his State of the Union address to the nation and Congress.

VICTIMS OF AIR FLORIDA FLIGHT 90 – from The Washington Post

Jane R. Burka was going to visit her sick mother. Chalmers McIlwaine Jr. was flying to Tampa on business, as were eight engineers from Fairchild Industries Inc. in Germantown. Leon and Harriet Murek, survivors of the Holocaust, were going to spend their first winter in their new retirement condominium. Flight attendant Donna Charlene Adams was on her regular East Coast run.

Altogether 79 people were aboard Air Florida’s Tampa-bound Flight 90 Wednesday when it crashed seconds after takeoff in a blinding snowstorm at National Airport here, leaving only five survivors.

Another was 18-month-old Christina Krzanowski, probably being held on the lap of one of her parents, who were en route to visit relatives in Tampa. They then planned to attend a pediatrician’s conference in Miami. Dr. Edward Krzanowski, 36, his wife Karen, 34, and their 4-year-old son David were listed on the airline manifest. The family lived in Lexington Park. Krzanowski was a Navy lieutenant commander.

Dr. Edward Krzanowski, 36, his wife Karen, 34, and their 4-year- old son David were listed on the airline manifest.
The Enterprise newspaper in Lexington Park, Md., published this background about the Navy pediatrician and his family who perished in the Flight 90s crash.

Also en route to a medical conference in Florida were Dr. William D. Liddle Jr., a Fredericksburg pediatrician, and Jo Ann Blake, 43, of Spotsylvania, a medical staff secretary for Mary Washington Hospital. Liddle was a licensed pilot and co-owner of a small plane, said his wife, Betty.

“Bill and I had a lot of conversations about if we died, what we wanted done,” recalled Betty Liddle, who married her husband in 1953. “That has been so easy because he wanted to be cremated and wanted to have a memorial service with just friends and then wanted everybody to come back to the house . . . We planned this in a rather joking way.”

Susan Fusco, 53, an elementary school teacher from Bowie, was reluctant to fly Wednesday because she was afraid of flying, said her husband, Gene. Susan Fusco was supposed to vacation in Tampa for several days and then attend a conference of teachers.

“We had called Air Florida to see if we could get a refund on the ticket, but they said the fare was not refundable. So rather than lose the money $214 round trip my wife decided to go ahead.

“All the way to the airport, we kept discussing whether the trip was worth it. She was primarily concerned about the weather and how bad it would have to be for the airlines to cancel the flights. I tried to assure her that the weather wouldn’t be a problem and that the plane would fly above the storm.”

Robert Essary, 50, of Gaithersburg, was one of eight employees of Fairchild Industries aboard the flight. The Fairchild team, all working at the corporation’s Space and Electronics Division, were headed for a meeting in Florida.

On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River in Washington, DC. This is a memorial tribute to that day. Includes a live, onsite report using HAM radio located in the reporter’s car. Obviously, before the days of cell phones.

Jacqueline Essary said she thought her husband had a premonition the night before the trip. “Bob wanted to discuss death and what I should do if anything ever happened to him,” she said. “I didn’t want to discuss death. But he kept bringing it up as if he knew something was going to happen, something about getting his life in order and making out a will. I encouraged him to forget that.”

Two Washington area residents were headed for a meeting at MacDill. They were Arnold Ivener of Springfield, a civilian member of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Lt. Col. Herbert Hiller of Fairfax.

Jose Tirado, a native of Madrid presumed killed alon14g with his 2-month-old son Jason, was going to Tampa with his wife Priscilla, 23.

The Tirados were going to Tampa so Jose Tirado could take a construction job and his wife could be near her parents, who lived in Clearwater.

Arland Williams, 46, a senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, had been in Washington for a week of meetings.

Stanley D. Woodard, 77, of Silver Spring, was going to Florida to inspect a retirement home where he and his wife Mary Frances, 81, hoped to relocate. His wife stayed behind at their Leisure World apartment. She said her husband was an inveterate traveler and that the couple met 10 years ago while on a round-the-world cruise.

“I thought a plane wouldn’t run if the weather was so bad,” said Mrs. Woodard. “But he insisted on going.”


Flight-90-hits-14th-Street-Bridge. Photos courtesy of WUSA 9 News via screenshots

Lenny Skutnik and others

“She was screaming `Would somebody please help me!’’ Skutnik told The Post.

From Arlington Fire Journal Blog

There were other heroics. A passerby, Lenny Skutnik, 28, who worked at the Congressional Budget Office, dove into the river and rescued a woman who was too weak to hang onto a rescue line. “She was screaming `Would somebody please help me!’’ Skutnik told The Post.

Firefighter John Leck, of D.C. Truck 3, also went into the water. “Without hesitation and regard for his own safety, he secured a lifeline around his waist and entered the freezing water which was contaminated with jet fuel,’’ according to his superior, Lt. Daniel O’Donnell. “He swam to the injured woman and kept her head above water until the members on the river bank pulled them to safety by means of the lifeline.’’ O’Donnell’s report was published in the newsletter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The last survivor of the crash – a balding, middle-aged man – vanished in the river after passing the helicopter lifeline to the others, the greatest act of heroism that day. As the Post reported: “To the copter’s two-man Park Police crew, he seemed the most alert. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball. The man passed them on to the others. On two occasions, the crew recalled … he handed away a lifeline from the hovering machine that could have dragged him to safety.’’

That man was later identified as Arland Williams — and one of the bridge’s spans was named in his honor. An autopsy showed Williams was the only victim to drown. The others suffered traumatic injuries. MORE


On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, the National Law Enforcement Museum presented the 15th installment of its popular Witness to History panel discussion series, generously sponsored by Target®. Held at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre, guests enjoyed a fascinating discussion featuring retired U.S. Park Police Pilot Don Usher, retired Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of Washington, DC, Detective Eric Witzig and Chester Panzer, the only news cameraman to capture the rescue of the survivors of Air Florida Flight 90.


Lenny Skutnik, CBO’s Most Famous Employee, Retires

Posted on June 3, 2010, by the Congressional Budget Office

Lenny Skutnik is a household name belonging to an unassuming Congressional Budget Office employee who insists he “wasn’t a hero” when one winter day in 1982 he jumped from the shore into the icy Potomac River to save a drowning woman after an Air Florida flight crashed on takeoff.  “I was just someone who helped another human being,” Lenny said later. While his rescue of Priscilla Tirado that day was extraordinary, Lenny has been helping the employees at CBO for more than 30 years.

Martin Leonard “Lenny” Skutnik came to work here in 1980 after a stint at the Social Security Administration. A hard-working employee, Lenny was hired to support the staff of the relatively new (1975) office created by Congress to produce budget and economic analysis. Lenny did whatever needed doing, mostly handling the mail and supplies needed to support the staff and, later, conducting the agency’s printing and providing IT support.

Lenny had been at CBO less than two years when he happened upon the Air Florida crash on his way home from work one night. He said his actions were amplified because they were captured on film and transmitted around the world. Public reaction was huge, and President Ronald Reagan, in his State of the Union address two weeks later, singled Lenny out in the House gallery, giving birth to the tradition of presidents using the annual speech to recognize ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things. The Presidential gallery in the House now is sometimes referred to as “The Heroes’ Gallery.” Search on the internet, and you’ll find much written about our Lenny. He’s been called   “the Potomac rescue guy” and “The Icy Swimming Rescue Dude.” Folks have written about talking to their children about heroism, using Lenny as their role model.

One woman wrote, “I was seated at the dinner table last night with my 12- and 13-year-olds and friend’s 8- and 10-year-olds, and they asked us about heroism. I mentioned Lenny Skutnik and what he did, and my friend and I started crying, thinking about that footage we still had in our heads all these years later. The kids were mesmerized. Thank you, Lenny Skutnik. We still remember.” “Lenny Skutnik is in my Top 5 Unforgettable People,” wrote another.

Lenny received many honors for his heroic act, including the United States Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal and the Carnegie Hero’s Fund Medal, as well as public tributes that include two “Lenny Skutnik Days” in Mississippi a month after the crash in 1982.  The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia unanimously passed a resolution in praise of Skutnik’s “unselfish act of bravery.”

There are still many at CBO who are unaware there is a hero among us. Lenny continued to work, conscientiously doing his job as if nothing unusual had happened, personally producing thousands of copies of hundreds of CBO reports during his 30 years of service to the U.S. Congress. “I’ve learned a lot here. I’m not a Ph.D. type,” he said, referring to the many highly educated analysts on CBO’s staff. “It’s been very rewarding for me to work for this institution that has some clout. I’m real proud to have been part of it.”

We’re proud to have had you as part of CBO, Lenny. We hope you enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it!

  • Bull Shark from Potomac in 2010 Buzzs Marina

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