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Miracle Aboard Flight 261
Part 2: No Shred of Evidence
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Text of the Story

We have not been able to find a shred of evidence to suggest that any part of this story ought to be believed, let alone forwarded on endlessly through emails till death do we all part from our computers.

For example:

  • Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcripts are almost never released to the general public. Select and relevant portions of them are provided to investigators and authorities and sometimes released during National Transportation Safety Board public hearings. In the case of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, the CVR transcript was made public on December 13, 2000. There is also an Air Traffic Control transcript available. Neither document contains evidence to support the urban legend.

    The CVR contains a thirty-minute loop tape wired-in to the aircraft's intercom system, and will pick up anything audible to the pilot-and-crew's headsets — both microphones and earphones. No more than the last thirty minutes of a flight are available on them, as the loop tape records over itself continuously after the first thirty minutes of a flight. Further, there are almost always two 'black boxes' (which are actually bright orange, to make them easier to find) on board a jetliner, the CVR and another device, which records all the mechanical data of the flight — all that registers on the aircraft's instruments, as well as the applied adjustments to all the flight components — the flaps, the engines, etc. The two devices together, which are mounted toward the rear of the aircraft — the portion most likely to receive the least amount of damage in a crash — usually provide a very clear understanding of the circumstances of a jet or plane accident.

  • Did God give temporary extra strength to the jackscrew (a simple and expensive but crucial part of the stabilizing system), which seems to have failed, causing the loss of control of the jet?  A visual graphic rendering of the final minutes of the flight path provided by LA Times staff writers cites nine minutes of regained control by the pilot and crew, and just may be a piece of the source of this story. Let's note, even so, that while "nine minutes" is stated in this article, specific attribution is not definitively provided for the ultimate cause of the regained control — was it only God or was it only/also the skill of the trained and experienced crew of the jet, who were in radio contact with several cities and were working hard and steadily to maintain control of the jet and to learn more about what was occurring with the mechanical systems of the aircraft, in addition to forming immediate exigency plans? Few, if any, articles that can be found on the Internet speak of the honor and skill with which pilot and crew of this jet did their jobs while faced with an impossible circumstance — keeping in flight a vehicle that fatally 'broke' — even though crew, and friends and relatives of the crew, made up fully one third of the population on board.
  • All versions of the story fail to provide evidence — to name names, as it were. Who was it that listened to the recording? How did he obtain access to such information? Was he a friend of somebody's friend, etc. (a classic urban legend attribution)?

It behooves us, however, to make plain that the woman who is pointed to with most of these claims as having been the person who preached to the passengers — Linda Knight, previously from Monroe, Washington, wife of Joe Knight, both of whom died in the crash — was a devout and very upstanding, and outstanding, member of her community and of every community that she visited, in fact, as a hard-working and relentlessly caring missionary within the Christian tradition. She and her husband were returning home from missionary work in Mexico — work that, interestingly, Alaska Airlines had been amongst others in providing financial and moral support to.

From CNN, here is a complete list of the 88 individuals who died in the crash, fully a third of whom were either Alaska Airlines crew members or relatives of the crew.

Page One: Text of Email

Sources and further reading:

  • Air Traffic Control Transcript: Flight 261 Crash. Aviation Safety Network.
  • "Flight 261 Prayer Story Spreads by Email." Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3 April 2000.
  • "Alaska Airlines Flight 261 Update." Washington State Bar News, Feb 2001. Washington State Bar Assn's evaluation of the crash.
  • "Flight 261: A Year Later." LA Times, 28 Jan 2001.
  • "Pastor's Family Has a Mission." Daily Herald (Everett, WA), 2 Feb 2000.

Peter Kohler is a writer and researcher based in Portland, Oregon

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