First Advisor

Paul Collins

Date of Publication

Spring 5-18-2015

Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Creative Writing






United Airlines Flight 173 Crash, 1978, Aircraft accidents -- Oregon -- Portland, United Airlines -- Accidents -- Investigation -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 117 pages)


In December 1978, United Airlines Flight 173 arriving in Portland from Denver with 189 people aboard crash-landed in a suburb at 157th and East Burnside. Ten people were killed and dozens more were injured. The jet ran out of fuel after it had circled for an hour while the crew tried to determine what was wrong with the right main landing gear, which had fallen with a huge double jolt on extension.

The investigation that followed the crash placed the blame squarely on the pilot for his negligence in failing to monitor his fuel supply, and secondarily on his crew members, who failed to adequately communicate their concerns about it. The accident was a watershed event in what would become known in the airline industry as crew resource management, a communication model designed to reduce human error by fostering collaborative decision-making and assertiveness training.

In the years that have followed the accident, very little has changed in the narrative surrounding it. Articles and docudramas on the plane crash consistently repeat the tale as is, blaming the pilot and shedding no light on the factors that led to the in-flight emergency or on United's role in contributing to the crash.

This thesis is a "cold-case" investigation that reveals those contributing factors, which have been so thoroughly ignored. In the words of renowned attorney F. Lee Bailey, "The rule of law requires that all parties who contribute to an accident share in the responsibility for whatever harm has been caused." This is the untold story of all the decisions that brought down United Flight 173, and of the responsibilities heretofore overlooked.


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This thesis is only available to students, faculty and staff at PSU.

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