United Airlines Flight 2860

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United Airlines Flight 2860
UnitedDC-8freight (4412117861).jpg
A United Airlines Douglas DC-8-54AF, similar to the one involved.
Date December 17, 1977
Summary Controlled flight into terrain,ATC error, pilot error
Site Davis County, near Farmington, Utah
41°01′41″N 111°52′30″W / 41.028056°N 111.875°W / 41.028056; -111.875Coordinates: 41°01′41″N 111°52′30″W / 41.028056°N 111.875°W / 41.028056; -111.875
Aircraft type McDonnell Douglas DC-8-54AF
Operator United Airlines
Registration N8047U
Flight origin San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, United States
Stopover Salt Lake City International Airport, Salt Lake City, United States
Destination O'Hare Airport, Chicago, United States
Passengers 0
Crew 3
Fatalities 3 (all)
Injuries 0
Survivors 0

United Airlines Flight 2860 was a scheduled cargo flight from San Francisco, California to Chicago, Illinois, with an intermediate stop in Salt Lake City, Utah. On December 18, 1977, operated by one of the airline's McDonnell Douglas DC-8-54AF Jet Traders, registration N8047U,[1] the flight crashed into a mountain in the Wasatch Range near Kaysville, Utah. All three crew members, the only occupants of the plane, were killed in the accident.

Summary of events

On December 18, 1977, United Airlines Flight 2860 flew from San Francisco, California to Salt Lake City, Utah. The flight departed San Francisco at 0017H. When the flight arrived over Salt Lake City at 0111H, the crew radioed the airport that they were having electrical trouble, and requested holding clearance to give them time to communicate with company maintenance. Clearance was approved, and the flight entered a holding pattern.[2]

For the next seven-and-a-half minutes, while in a holding pattern, the flight was absent from the approach control frequency, and entered an area of hazardous terrain. The flight contacted maintenance, and informed they were having electrical trouble, and that several landing gear lights were inoperative. After discussing the problems with maintenance, and deciding to contact the tower to get the emergency equipment ready, they re-established contact with the tower in Salt Lake City.[2] The controller on duty noticed Flight 2860's predicament, but was unable to contact the flight until it re-entered the approach frequency. The controller immediately told Flight 2860 it was close to terrain on its right, and to institute an immediate left turn. Not receiving a response, the controller repeated his instructions, which Flight 2860 responded to. Fifteen seconds later, the same controller told Flight 2860 to climb to 8000 feet. The flight reported it was climbing to 8000 from 6000 feet. Eleven seconds later, the flight crashed into a 7665-foot mountain at 7200 feet.[2]

The Sheriff's Office in Farmington, Utah reported the sound of an explosion and subsequent rumbling felt in the ground. The dispatcher called the Airport to ask if an airplane had gone missing. The first answer was no. More questions revealed that it was a cargo plane. The Sheriff's Office organized a rescue team that found the bodies and debris. The rescue team reported that no part of the airplane bigger than a briefcase survived the crash. The "echo" of the crash could be seen on the mountainside for several years afterward. Witnesses in Kaysville and Fruit Heights saw an airplane flying low overhead. Shortly thereafter, all saw an orange glow to the east, which continued for three to four seconds. All witnesses reported rain in the area, and several reported it as heavy.[2] All three occupants of the flight were killed, and the aircraft was destroyed.


The NTSB deduced that the cause of the accident was the "controller's issuance and the flight crew's subsequent acceptance of an incomplete and ambiguous holding clearance". The flight crew was cited for their failure to adhere to established lack-of-communication guidelines, and lack of adherence to established holding procedures. The aircraft's electrical problems were cited as a contributing factor.

In addition, the flight's cockpit voice recorder was found to be inoperative, preventing the accident investigation from identifying any contributing factors in the cockpit.[3]


  1. ^ "FAA Registry (N8047U)". Federal Aviation Administration. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 11, 2009. Retrieved April 4, 2010.  NTSB report July 1978 Accessed April 5, 2010
  3. ^ http://www.ntsb.gov/recs/letters/1978/A78_21_22.pdf NTSB Safety recommendations A-78-21 and A-78-22 accessed April 5, 2010

External links

  • Aviation Safety Network for United 2860
  • Photos of N8047U at Airliners.net
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