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Logan’s seaside location drives safety plans

Calif. crash evokes memories of deadly ’73 accident in Boston

The Asiana Airlines Flight that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday came in too low over the water, hit a sea wall, and caught on fire. Two people died and more than 180 were injured.


The Asiana Airlines Flight that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday came in too low over the water, hit a sea wall, and caught on fire. Two people died and more than 180 were injured.

Flying into Logan International Airport can be an unnerving experience, coming in low over the water before touching down seconds later on the runway — similar to the approach that Asiana Airlines Flight 214 made at San Francisco International Airport Saturday before it crashed, killing two people and injuring more than 180.

The Asiana pilots came in too slowly and tried to abort the landing, the National Transportation Safety Board said. The plane hit the sea wall, snapping off its tail section and skidding to a halt before catching fire.

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The accident evokes memories of similar crashes at Logan, including the worst in Boston’s history.

In July 1973, a Delta Air Lines plane hit the sea wall while landing at Logan in heavy fog and burst into flames. All 89 people aboard the flight from Burlington, Vt., were killed, including a 20-year-old Air Force sergeant who survived for four months before succumbing to complications from massive burns.

In 1982, a World Airways flight from Newark skidded off an icy runway into the harbor, apparently throwing two men into the water; their bodies were never found. It was the most recent serious plane crash at Logan.

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The airport has made hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of airfield improvements since those accidents, including removing the 2½-foot concrete sea wall and adding an extension into Boston Harbor that can stop planes that overshoot the runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration has mandated many safeguards over the years, and in some cases Logan has been among the first in the country to test them.

Safety measures adopted early in Boston include lights at intersecting runways that tell pilots on the ground if they are about to cross an active runway; radar that shows air traffic controllers the height of ships in the harbor; a radar-based system that detects foreign objects on the runway; and a tracking system that shows snowplows and other ground traffic to air traffic controllers, pilots, and others during periods of low visibility.

The FAA now requires runways to have a 1,000-foot safety area for aborted takeoffs or missed landings, like the World Airways crash.

Logan does not have room to fully extend its runways, however, and instead installed beds of gravel that slope down into the water or crushed concrete, both of which act as braking mechanisms.

A $63 million project completed last month added a 300-foot-wide concrete pier at the end of Runway 33L that extends 470 feet into the harbor, with a bed of crushed concrete designed to stop a plane as big as a Boeing 747-400 traveling at more than 80 miles per hour.

These crushed concrete beds have stopped aircraft eight times since 1999 at airports around the country, according to the FAA.

In Boston, the vast majority of takeoffs and landings occur over the water, in part to keep planes from violating noise restrictions over South Boston. Many planes take off over the water and then make a hard left turn to avoid the city.

“Pilots have always said you need to bring your A game, which I’m happy they do, when you’re coming into Boston,” said Thomas Kinton, former chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, and an aviation consultant in Winthrop.

Airports near water are prone to fog and tricky wind conditions, but in general, coming in over water is no more challenging than over land, said Patrick Smith, a pilot from Somerville whose column, “Ask the Pilot,” runs on

Still, Smith recognizes that passengers sometimes get nervous when they see water during a landing.

“The perspective might have something to do with it,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Passengers can only see to the side; pilots, of course, have a forward view and a much clearer picture of the plane’s orientation.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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