Eastern Air Lines Flight 980

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Eastern Air Lines Flight 980
Eastern Boeing 727-200 Silagi-1.jpg
An Eastern Boeing 727-200 similar to the one involved in the accident
Date1 January 1985
SummaryControlled flight into terrain for unknown reasons
SiteMount Illimani, Bolivia
Aircraft typeBoeing 727-225 Advanced
OperatorEastern Air Lines
Flight originSilvio Pettirossi International Airport, Asunción, Paraguay
1st stopoverEl Alto International Airport, La Paz, Bolivia
2nd stopoverJosé Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, Guayaquil, Ecuador
DestinationMiami International Airport, Florida, USA

Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 was a scheduled international flight from Asunción, Paraguay, to Miami, Florida, United States. On January 1, 1985, while descending towards La Paz, Bolivia, for a scheduled stopover, the Boeing 727 jetliner operating the flight struck Mount Illimani at an altitude of 19,600 feet (6,000 m), killing all 29 people on board.

The wreckage was scattered over a large area of a glacier covered with snow. Over the decades, several search expeditions were only able to recover a small amount of debris, and searches for the flight recorders were unsuccessful. The accident remains the highest-altitude controlled flight into terrain in commercial aviation history.


Flight 980 had departed Asunción at 17:57 on January 1, 1985. On board were 19 passengers and a crew of 10.

The Miami-based cockpit crew consisted of Captain Larry Campbell, First Officer Kenneth Rhodes, and Flight Engineer Mark Bird. The cabin crew comprised five Chilean flight attendants based in Santiago: Paul Adler, Pablo Letelier, Marilyn MacQueen, Robert O'Brien, and Paula Valenzuela.

The 19 passengers were from Paraguay, South Korea, and the United States. Among the passengers was the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay, Marian Davis, and two Eastern pilots flying as passengers.

At 19:37 the pilot told controllers in La Paz he estimated landing at 19:47. The crew was cleared to descend from 25,000 feet to 18,000 feet. At some point after this exchange, the aircraft veered significantly off course for unknown reasons, possibly to avoid weather. The accident occurred 25 miles from runway 9R at El Alto Airport.[1]

On-site investigation[edit]

In October 1985, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) selected Greg Feith, an air safety investigator, to lead a team of U.S. investigators and Bolivian mountain guides to conduct an on-site examination of the wreckage of Flight 980, which had come to rest around 6,126 metres (20,098 ft). Feith conducted the on-site investigation with the goal of finding the flight data recorder (FDR) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), as well as retrieving other critical information; however, because the wreckage was spread over a vast area and covered by 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) of snow, his fellow team members and he were unable to locate either of the "black boxes". He did retrieve various small parts of the aircraft cockpit, official flight-related paperwork, and some items from the passenger cabin.[2]

Discovery of wreckage[edit]

Over the years, the debris moved along with the glacier and eventually emerged enough that climbers were able to uncover wreckage in 2006. No bodies were found, though various personal effects of the passengers were recovered. Local climbers believed it was only a matter of time before bodies, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder emerge from the ice.[3]

On June 4, 2016, after one of the warmest years on record in the area, human remains and a piece of wreckage labelled "CKPT VO RCDR" were recovered by a team of five in the Andes mountains. Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner of Operation Thonapa recovered six large orange metal segments and several damaged pieces of magnetic tape.[4][5][6][7]

On January 4, 2017, Futrell and Stoner — who had been inspired to undertake the search by reading of Flight 980 in the Wikipedia article "List of unrecovered flight recorders"[8] — met with NTSB investigator Bill English[9] to officially hand off the recovered components, following the approval in December 2016 of the Bolivian General Directorate of Civil Aviation for the NTSB to proceed with the analysis attempt.

On 7 February 2017, the NTSB released a statement that what had been found was not the cockpit flight recorder, but instead the rack that had fixed it on to the plane, and a promising spool turned out to be ¾-inch U-Matic video tape that "when reviewed was found to contain an 18-minute recording of the Trial by Treehouse episode of the television series I Spy, dubbed in Spanish". [8][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harro Ranter (1 January 1985). "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 727-225 N819EA Nevado Illimani". Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  2. ^ U.S. NTSB-public docket information is stored on NTSB microfiche number 29062. Accident identification: Tuesday, January 1, 1985 in LA PAZ, Bolivia Aircraft: BOEING 727-225, registration: N819EA Injuries: 29 Fatal. DCA85RA007
  3. ^ Simon Romero (15 January 2011). "Melting in Andes Reveals Remains and Wreckage". International Herald Tribune.
  4. ^ "Operation Thonapa". Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  5. ^ "Two Massachusetts men say they have found long-lost 'black boxes' in Bolivia — The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved 2016-06-06.
  6. ^ Dan Futrell (4 June 2016). "31 years later, we found the flight recorders". Operation Thonapa.
  7. ^ Peter Frick-Wright (18 October 2016). "What Happened to Eastern Airlines Flight 980?". Outside Online.
  8. ^ a b Bates, Claire (22 February 2017). "The housemates who found a lost plane wreck". BBC World Service. Retrieved 2017-02-22.
  9. ^ Cook, Jeffrey; Luna, Nathan (2017-01-05). "Long-Lost Black Box From Crashed 1985 Flight Headed to NTSB". ABC News. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  10. ^ "NTSB Press Release".

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 16°38′10″S 67°47′21″W / 16.63611°S 67.78917°W / -16.63611; -67.78917