After a Futile Struggle, a Jet’s Fatal Plunge

Pilots of an Alaska Airlines jet struggled valiantly to regain control of a stricken plane. They tried to maneuver for an emergency landing at LAX but never made it. The plane plunged into the ocean off the Ventura County coast, killing all 88 people on board.

Eleven months later, federal investigators continue their efforts to determine what caused the crash.

Shortly after takeoff from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on a scheduled flight to San Francisco and Seattle, the pilots began having problems with the MD-83’s horizontal stabilizer--the flat, wing-like part of the tail that largely controls the up-and-down pitch of the nose.

As Flight 261 continued, the problems grew worse. A loud bang--apparently the sound of the stabilizer breaking away--echoed through the plane and it fell into the water near Anacapa Island.


National Transportation Safety Board investigators recovered much of the fragmented wreckage from the ocean floor. Several of the key pieces were from the jackscrew mechanism that raises and lowers the front edge of the stabilizer.

The threads of the gimbal nut through which the jackscrew moves had been stripped off, and no grease was found on much of the jackscrew. The NTSB’s report on the crash is expected in coming months.