Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 was a scheduled flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Miami International Airport. The aircraft operating the route, a Lockheed L1011-385-1 Tristar crashed into the Florida Everglades, resulting in 101 fatalities. The pilots and the flight engineer, two of the 10 flight attendants, and 96 out of the 163 passengers died. 75 passengers and crew survived. The crash occurred while the whole cockpit crew were preoccupied with a burnt out landing gear indicator light. They failed to notice the autopilot had inadvertently disconnected and the aircraft started decending, and as a result, the plane smashed into the everglades.
The crash gained unusual notoriety when stories began circulating of the deceased flight crew haunting components scavenged from the wreckage.
On the day of the crash, Flight 401 was using a Lockheed L1011-385-1 registered N310EA and given the serial number 1011, it had its first flight in 1972 and gone through 986 airframe hours and 502 flight cycles. It was powered by 3 Rolls-Royce RB211-22C engines. It was the tenth tristar to be delivered to Eastern Air Lines. The aircraft was completely destroyed by the crash, only intact components were reused.
The flight was under the command of Captain Robert Albin (Bob) Loft, 55, a veteran pilot ranked 50th in seniority at Eastern. Captain Loft had been with the airline for 32 years and had accumulated a total of 29,700 flight hours throughout his flying career. He had logged 280 hours in the L-1011. His flight crew included First Officer Albert John (Bert) Stockstill, 39, who had 5,800 hours of flying experience (with 306 of them in the L-1011), and Second Officer (flight engineer) Donald Louis (Don) Repo, 51, who had 15,700 hours of flying experience, with 53 of them in the L-1011. A company employee—technical officer Angelo Donadeo, 47, returning to Miami from an assignment in New York—accompanied the flight crew for the journey, but was officially an off-duty "non-revenue passenger".
Flight 401 departs John F Kennedy International Airport inbound for Miami at at 21:20 Eastern Standard Time.
The flight was routine until 23:32, when the plane began its approach to Miami. After lowering the landing gear, First Officer Stockstill noticed that the landing gear indicator, a green light identifying that the nose gear is properly locked in the "down" position, had not illuminated. After the crash it was discovered to be a burnt out light bulb. The landing gear could be manually lowered nevertheless. The pilots cycled the landing gear, but still failed to get the confirmation light.
Captain Loft, who was working the radio during the last leg of the flight, told ATC they would discontinue their approach to Miami and request a holding pattern instead. The approach controller cleared them for a holding pattern and instructed them to hold at 2000 ft and then hold west over the everglades.
The cockpit crew removed the light assembly and Second Officer Repo was dispatched to the avionics bay beneath the flight deck to confirm via a small porthole if the landing gear was indeed down. 50 seconds after reaching their assigned altitude (2000 ft), Captain Loft instructed First Officer Stockstill to engage the autopilot.