Woman who preached to Alaska Airlines passengers on doomed flight-Fiction!

  Passengers on Doomed Alaska Airlines Plane Make Peace with God Before Crash-Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
The email being circulated says that a pastor’s wife on a doomed Alaska Airlines plane addressed the passengers for 9 minutes and led them in prayer before the plane crashed.  This allegedly came from an Alaska pilot who heard the cockpit voice recordings.  The original version of the eRumor said the pastor’s wife was from Idaho.  More recent versions say it was a pastor’s wife from Washington.  Further, the email states that the pilot says there was no explanation for why the plane was able to stay aloft for those final 9 minutes.

The Truth:
There is no evidence this happened.  The National Transportation Safety Board has now released the cockpit voice recordings from the flight and there is nothing like this story on them.
Alaska flight 261 crashed off the coast of California on January 31, 2000.  The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jetliner carried 88 people.  There were no survivors.
Among the passengers were Joe and Linda Knight from Monroe, Washington.  They were co-pastors of The Rock Church in Monroe.  Their adult son, who is also a minister, is quoted in news reports as saying Linda was the kind of person who would probably preach to the passengers during an emergency.  It is possible that’s where the story originated.
When the eRumor first started, there were several things about it that didn’t seem valid.
First, the claim that the information came from an Alaska pilot who heard the cockpit voice recordings was not credible.  The tapes were in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board who keeps things like that very secure.  It would be illegal for anyone to release that kind of information before the NTSB does.
Second, we talked with several pilots who fly the MD-80 and they all agreed that the cockpit voice recorder does not record what is said in the passenger cabin over the P.A. system.  It records the cockpit crew and radio conversations.
Third, it is not credible that any passenger would have been able to spend 9 minutes talking over the P.A. system to fellow passengers.  According to published news reports, the first time the plane reported trouble to air traffic controllers was at 4:10pm.  The last transmission from the plane was at 4:17pm and it disappeared from radar at 4:21pm.  That meant there were about 11 minutes from the beginning of the emergency to the crash.  For Linda Knight to have addressed the passengers for 9 minutes, she would have been given the microphone within 2 minutes of when the crew first reported a problem.  If anything would have been communicated to the passengers during that time, it would have been from the crew and if they felt a crash was imminent, they would have been talking about emergency procedures, not letting a passenger address the other passengers.
Finally, there is good explanation how the plane stayed in the air.  The pilots were able to struggle to stabilize the plane and had reported to controllers that they thought they could make it to Los Angeles International Airport.  It is believed that there was catastrophic failure that led to the plane’s final plunge into the ocean.  So this story felt, acted, and tasted like a rumor from the beginning.

Last updated 9/21/00