On January 13, 1982, an airplane crashed into a bridge in Washington, D.C., then plunged into the Potomac River. More than 70 passengers, crew, and motorists died in the crash, which was caused by poor weather conditions, poor decision-making by the company and crew, and poor traffic conditions.
 
The snowy weather in Washington, D.C., had closed Washington National Airport until just hours before Air Florida Flight 90 was scheduled to leave for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ice built up on the plane’s wings and engines, and briefly prevented the plane from leaving its gate
 
Poor decisions by the company and crew also contributed to the disaster. The company hired young pilots with little experience flying in snowy weather conditions. Machinery used to de-ice the plane did not meet the criteria demanded by the safety industry. The crew made the fatal decisions not to have the plane de-iced a second or third time, and not to activate the plane’s own de-icing mechanism. To do so would have delayed the flight, cost the company money, and inconvenienced their passengers.
 
Finally, traffic conditions in the Washington, D.C., were busy. The crash took place at 4 o’clock, at the beginning of the evening rush hour. Many commuters were leaving early to avoid the snowy road conditions. Vehicles crowded the city’s roads, highways, and bridges. Just minutes after the Air Florida crash, Washington, D.C.’s mass transit system suffered its first fatal crash. This meant that crucial transportation methods—a major rail line, road, bridge, and air space—were diminished on January 13.
 
Perhaps the most lasting impressions of the crash into the Potomac were the images of first responders and everyday citizens working to rescue survivors from the river. A United States Park Police helicopter lifted several people to safety. A bystander, Lenny Skutnik, bravely jumped into the icy Potomac to rescue a woman unable to swim to shore. 
 
President Ronald Reagan honored the rescuers in his State of the Union address days later, with Skutnik invited to attend. Today, everyday Americans invited to attend the State of the Union speech are called “Lenny Skutniks.”
briefly
Adverb

for a short time.

bystander
Noun

onlooker, or a person present but not involved in an incident.

commuter
Noun

person who travels between home and work.

criteria
Plural Noun

set of standards or rules.

crucial
Adjective

very important.

delay
Verb

to put off until a later time.

disaster
Noun

terrible and damaging event.

engine
Noun

machine that converts energy into power or motion.

fatal
Adjective

causing death.

first responder
Noun

person likely to be the first to provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, such as firefighters or police.

gate
Noun

passage that allows entry and exit to a plane, train, or ship.

helicopter
Noun

aircraft that flies using rotating blades on top of the body of the craft.

Noun

water in its solid form.

impression
Noun

strong effect on emotions or thoughts.

inconvenience
Verb

to disturb or bother.

industry
Noun

activity that produces goods and services.

machinery
Noun

mechanical appliances or tools used in manufacturing.

mass transit
Noun

large-scale public transportation, such as buses or trains.

mechanism
Noun

process or assembly that performs a function.

motorist
Noun

person who drives or travels in a private vehicle.

pilot
Noun

person who steers a ship or aircraft.

plunge
Verb

to enter suddenly, especially into water.

prevent
Verb

to keep something from happening.

rescue
Verb

to free or save from danger.

rush hour
Noun

time of the day when many people are in transit.

schedule
Noun

set of time tables or deadlines for appointments or completion of tasks.

snow
Noun

precipitation made of ice crystals.

State of the Union address
Noun

speech given by the president of the U.S. every year, concerning his policies and plans.

traffic
Noun

movement of many things, often vehicles, in a specific area.

transportation
Noun

movement of people or goods from one place to another.

vehicle
Noun

device used for transportation.

Noun

state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

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