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Flight Races Against Hurricane Irma, Becomes Internet Hero

A pilot attempting to race a hurricane sounds like something out of a James Cameron movie. But the crew of Delta Flight 302 took on Hurricane Irma to evacuate its 173 passengers from San Juan – and won.

On September 6th, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Puerto Rico, and people were anxiously evacuating or finding higher ground. Several airlines attempted to make landfall in San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, only to turn back as the winds approached dangerous speeds.

But not Delta Flight 302. Delta’s meteorology team looked at the projected data and opted not to turn back. The plane touched down at 12:08 pm and had a little under an hour to get all of its passengers off, get its new passengers on, and take off. At this point, winds were gusting up to 185 mph.

The risky feat was documented by self-proclaimed “plane geek” and aviation blogger Jason Rabinowitz, who used aviation data to follow the plane’s path into the storm.

Rabinowitz carefully followed the plane’s quick turnaround time in the San Juan airport, an effort that required coordination from air traffic controllers, ground staff, and Delta’s staff on the flight.

Rabinowitz was originally skeptical about the chances of getting the plane in and out before the worst of the storm hit, but his incredulity gave way to awe as he reported on the plane’s refueling and passenger coordination.

The crew managed to get in and out in 52 minutes, just moments before the hurricane hit and the airport was forced to close down.

From there, the pilots used Delta’s onboard radar to avoid the worst of the wind and rain. Theyfollowed a pocket of relative calm between the outer edge of the hurricane and its inner mass. 

climbing the arm Twitter

In other words, not only did the plane escape the hurricane, but they did it by riding one of its arms out to safety. 

The plane cleared the worst of the hurricane and made it to NY’s JFK airport 39 minutes ahead of schedule. Rabinowitz conveyed that information to thousands of very relieved Twitter followers.

Although many were quick to praise the unknown pilots, Rabinowitz pointed out that it was a joint effort – everyone involved, both on the plane and on the ground, showed tremendous courage and excellent planning in getting the plane off the ground again. Still…

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