On Wednesday, fans of commercial aviation noticed something interesting take place in the skies over Puerto Rico.
As Hurricane Irma bore down on the Caribbean island, an intrepid Delta Air Lines jet not only manage to land in the island’s capital but also made a successful escape before conditions deteriorated.
Travelers have been working hard to get out of Puerto Rico, while many of the US island territory’s residents have been trying to get home before the massive storm hits.
In fact, three jets, two from JetBlue and one from American, tried to sneak into the nation’s capital, San Juan, before the storm but were forced to turn back.
But a lone Boeing 737-900ER, Delta Flight 431 from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, managed to land in San Juan shortly after noon on Wednesday. On the ground, the Atlanta-based carrier and its staff managed to drop off passengers, unload luggage, refuel, reload luggage, and reload passengers in just 52 minutes, Rabinowitz said.
Shortly thereafter, the Delta jet was back in the air, on its way back to New York as Flight 302 before conditions at the airport became too extreme for commercial airline operation. The getaway wasn’t easy, as by that time the outer rings of the storm had set upon the island.
This required the fully loaded 737-900, not known as one of the industry’s muscle-bound hot rods, to thread the needle and fly between two of the hurricane’s numerous bands.
Eventually, the flight cleared the storm and reached a cruising altitude of 34,000 feet. Flight 302 landed in New York at 4:22 p.m. local time, 39 minutes ahead of schedule.
Hurricane Irma and its 185 mph winds have wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. The Category 5 hurricane entered the Caribbean on Tuesday night as it made landfall in the Leeward Islands. Since then, Irma has left a path of destruction in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, and Montserrat.
On St. Martin, Irma caused severe damage to the terminal and runway of Princess Juliana International Airport, a major transit hub for the region.
Here is Rabinowitz’s humorous play-by-play commentary of the Delta jet’s journey to Puerto Rico and back: