37 years ago, on 3 November 1973, National Airlines flight 27 was flying from Miami to San Francisco via New Orleans, Houston, and Las Vegas. The airline's first DC-10 was operating the flight. Named Barbara at the time, N60NA (SN 46700) was the 14th DC-10 built and had been delivered to National two years and two days earlier.
At about 4:40pm Mountain Standard Time, while cruising at 39,000 feet (flight level 390) about 65 nautical miles southwest of Albuquerque, the aircraft suffered an uncontained failure of the #3 engine's fan assembly. Debris penetrated both of the other engine nacelles and the right wing. In addition, debris damaged the fuselage including the window adjacent to seat 17H, causing the window to rupture. The ensuing explosive decompression caused the passenger in seat 17H, Mr. G.F. Gardner of Beaumont, Texas, to be ejected from the aircraft, becoming the first DC-10 fatality.
The aircraft landed safely at Albuquerque 19 minutes later and the remaining 115 passengers and 12 crew exited the aircraft using emergency slides. 24 people were treated for smoke inhalation, barotrauma, and minor abrasions.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of this accident was the disintegration of the No. 3 engine fan assembly as a result of an interaction between the fan blade tips and the fan case. The fan-tip rub condition was caused by the acceleration of the engine to an abnormally high fan speed which initiated a multiwave, vibratory resonance within the fan section of the engine. The precise reason or reasons for the acceleration and the onset of the destructive vibration could not be determined conclusively.
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Karl L. Swartz.
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