Hurricane Irma was spinning toward Puerto Rico today, but that didn’t stop one Delta flight from making a daring landing on the island mid-afternoon—and then trying to get out before the storm made landfall.
Riveted Twitter users followed along in real time by looking at radar depictions of the plane’s flight path, as Delta Flight 431 left New York City and headed south toward San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“DL431 is going for it,” wrote Jason Rabinowitz, a Twitter user and self-described aviation geek who spotted the plane headed straight toward the menacing storm.
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Meanwhile, the island braced itself for landfall of the Category 5 storm, whose 180 mile per hour winds, torrential rains and punishing storm surge prompted Puerto Rico’s governor to declare a preemptive state of emergency earlier this week. Irma has already set records, too, becoming the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The Delta flight landed successfully, despite the fact that the storm was already beginning to impact Puerto Rico. But that was just half the battle—the flight crew then had to get passengers off board, get a full flight of new passengers aboard, and then get out as quickly as possible before the storm hit.
The plane quickly boarded and began taxiing to take off from San Juan.
By this point, the bulk of the storm and its eye were still to the east of the runway where the Delta flight would take off—but the hurricane’s arm was reaching around to the west, leaving the plane just a narrow, storm-free window to fly into before the eye zeroed in on the island.
And they made it.
How’d the flight crew do it? Well, it helped to have an incredibly short amount of time on the ground—just 52 minutes, by Rabinowitz’ calculation.
But the adventure still wasn’t over.
The plane still had to navigate its way between the core of the storm and its arm to get in the clear on its return voyage.
Again, the pilots were successful—steering clear of the storm threat to both the east and the west until the plane made it north of the entire storm. Then, on to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Needless to say, it was a team effort: