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TBT: Pan Am Flight 421 crashes in Costa Rica on this day in 1980

September 3, 2020

On this day in 1980, a Boeing 727 operating Pan American World Airways flight 421 crashed short of Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport.

The flight was attempting to land, bringing 67 passengers and six crew from Miami (MIA) to the San José-area airport. Thankfully, all 73 occupants escaped the incident uninjured.

According to B3A, which archives aircraft accidents:

On final approach to San José – Juan Santamaría Airport, the crew encountered poor weather conditions. In limited visibility due to rain falls, the airplane descended below the glide until the right main gear struck the ground 15 meters short of runway 07 threshold. On impact, the landing gear was torn off. Out of control, the airplane struck the ground, lost its undercarriage then slid on several dozen meters before coming to rest.

The aircraft, registered N327PA and nicknamed “Clipper Meteor,” was damaged beyond repair.

****

Pan American World Airways, once one of the most recognized names in the sky, made Costa Rica one of its first international destinations.

A Pan Am route map for its Flying Clipper Ships cited “beautiful girls galore” in Costa Rica (and also wild orchids).

Pan American Flying Clipper route map. (Via David Rumsey Map Collection.)

Financial struggles forced Pan Am to cut several routes as a cost-cutting measure, and the airline stopped flying to Costa Rica in 1981. It later returned, but the airline ceased operations for good in December 1991.

Pan American Airlines
Pan American Airlines in Costa Rica. (Tico Times archive photo.)

 

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