United 173 left Denver bound for Portland with more than enough fuel onboard to fly for more than an hour longer than its planned flight time.
During its final approach, the crew couldn’t confirm that the plane’s main landing gear was down and locked. They aborted their landing and spent the next 30 minutes trying to figure out what to do.
During this time, the First Officer and the Flight Engineer warned the Captain that they were running low on fuel. The Captain radioed the airport tower and announced when they would be landing.
United 173 crashed, 6 miles short of the runway, all four engines flamed out and its fuel tanks empty. The plane didn’t catch fire which probably saved lives. But that was because it was out of fuel.
The plane’s Captain was held responsible for the accident, lost his pilot’s license and had to retire. He passed away 26 years later. Later evidence showed the aircraft’s fuel gauges were not always accurate. And the survivors credit the Captain with saving their lives.
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