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Galaxy Airlines Flight 203
Accident summary
Date January 21, 1985
Summary Pilot/Ground Crew error
Site Reno, Nevada, United States
39°27′55″N 119°46′56″W / 39.465281°N 119.782223°W / 39.465281; -119.782223Coordinates: 39°27′55″N 119°46′56″W / 39.465281°N 119.782223°W / 39.465281; -119.782223
Passengers 65
Crew 6
Injuries (non-fatal) 1 (5 initially)
Fatalities 70 (66 initially)
Survivors 1 (George Lamson Jr.; 5 initially)
Aircraft type Lockheed L-188A Electra
Operator Galaxy Airlines
Registration N5532

Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 was a Lockheed L-188 Electra 4-engine turboprop, registration N5532, operating as a non-scheduled charter flight from Reno, Nevada, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The aircraft crashed in 1985 shortly after takeoff; all but one of the 71 on board died.

Flight chronology[edit]

The flight took off from runway 26R at Reno-Cannon International Airport (now Reno-Tahoe International Airport) at 1:04 am on January 21, 1985. A short time later, the aircraft crashed about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) from the end of the runway and burst into flames. It landed near a recreational vehicle dealership, and debris was scattered across US Highway 395 and South Virginia Street. Of the 71 people aboard, three survived the initial impact, but one of them died on January 29 and another on February 4. The lone survivor was then 17-year-old George Lamson Jr., who was thrown clear of the aircraft and landed upright, still in his seat, on South Virginia Street. (His father, George Lamson Sr., was one of the three initial survivors of the crash but later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.)

Truckee Meadows Fire Department was the first emergency response department to arrive at the scene of the crash. Several other Washoe County and State of Nevada agencies also responded. George Kitchen, who was a fire captain in the Reno Fire Department leading a crew from station No. 6 in south Reno, noted, "One of the first things we saw was the boy. He was still strapped in his seat out on South Virginia Street. He was conscious. We gave him first aid until the medics got there." Lamson gave an interview shortly after the crash in which he stated that he was able to walk away from his seat prior to the aircraft exploding. Lamson's testimony is substantiated by the owner of the Magic Carpet Mini Golf Course, who witnessed the crash and called in to emergency services. He states the boy was up and walking before the arrival of emergency services. The owner reported it took longer for the fire department to get there because they did not believe his call reporting a plane crash.[1][2]

A store and seven RVs were also damaged. The aircraft was returning from a gaming/Super Bowl trip sponsored by Caesars Tahoe.

Heavy vibration started shortly after takeoff, and the cockpit voice recorders recorded one of the pilots asking the tower to allow them to make a left downwind turn, that they had to get back on the ground.

Due to a lack of facilities for handling so many bodies at once, the victims were taken to the Reno Livestock Events Center for autopsy and identification processes. The autopsies were led by the Washoe County Coroner, V. McCarty, and four medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno.


Air start door sketch (from NTSB report).
Air start door location (from NTSB report).

The United States National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident, and issued the following probable cause:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s failure to control and the copilot’s failure to monitor the flight path and airspeed of the aircraft. This breakdown in crew coordination followed the onset of unexpected vibration shortly after takeoff.

The NTSB added the following Contributing Factor:

Contributing to the accident was the failure of ground handlers to properly close an air start access door, which led to the vibration.

The NTSB report indicates that the ground handlers did not properly close the air start access door due to a sudden change in their procedure when the ground handler supervisor realized that the headset being used to communicate with the flightcrew was nonfunctional, and had to revert mid-routine to using hand signals. This break in routine led the supervisor to signal the flight to taxi before the air start hose was disconnected. Although he then realized that the hose was still connected and signaled the flight crew for an emergency stop, and the hose was successfully disconnected, the closing of the air start access door was not completed either prior to the supervisor's initial go-ahead or after the emergency stop.

The report concluded that the air start access door is what led to the vibrations. The investigation indicated that these vibrations were not a threat to the aircraft's safe operation, and would likely not have prevented the aircraft from reaching cruise speed and altitude. Similar reports surfaced from other Electra pilots which indicated that the vibrations ceased at higher air speeds.

While the flightcrew was trying to determine the source of the vibrations, they reduced power to all four engines simultaneously, presumably to test the engines to see if they were the source. Power was then not increased before the wings stalled.

The aircraft had been chartered to transport U.S. presidential candidates John Glenn and Jesse Jackson periodically in 1983 and 1984. On one flight with Jackson and his entourage between Washington, D.C., and Dallas, Texas, in May 1984, the aircraft shook, dropped and pitched due to heavy turbulence, reportedly resulting in a stewardess screaming and vomiting.[1] The United States Secret Service asked the Federal Aviation Administration to examine the aircraft, but nothing wrong was found.[1]

Remembering Galaxy Airlines Flight 203[edit]

Sole Survivor, a 2013 documentary by Ky Dickens, follows Lamson's story and challenges living with survivor's guilt along with the lone survivors of other plane crashes around the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Magnuson, Ed; Kane, Joseph J.; Mathison, Dirk (February 4, 1985). "Crash of a Troubled Bird". TIME. 
  2. ^ Costantini, Allen (2005). "The Legacy of Galaxy Flight 203". kare11.org. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_Airlines_Flight_203 — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

47 news items

Reno Gazette Journal

Tue, 20 Jan 2015 18:45:54 -0800

RENO — Some wounds don't heal. Some memories don't fade. Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 crashed into a Reno field just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 21, 1985 – 30 years ago Wednesday. But for the first responders and the flight's sole survivor, it seems like ...

Reno Gazette Journal

Reno Gazette Journal
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:27:15 -0800

Some wounds don't heal. Some memories don't fade. Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 crashed into a Reno field at South Virginia Street and Neil Road just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 21, 1985 – 30 years ago Wednesday. But for the first responders and the flight's ...


Wed, 08 Jan 2014 10:44:15 -0800

How do you say thank you for a second chance at life? That is the question that has followed George Lamson Jr. since the cold, clear Reno, Nev., morning of Jan. 21, 1985, the day he walked away from the burning wreckage of Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 ...


Sun, 19 May 2013 21:28:49 -0700

Lamson was the only one of 71 people on board who survived that crash a short distance from the airport in Reno, Nev. He's one of 14 people to be the sole survivor of a commercial plane crash. "What I remember is hitting the ground, waking up seeing ...

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fri, 14 Nov 2014 17:42:30 -0800

21, 1985: Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 crashed after takeoff from Reno; 70 dead; the only survivor a 17-year-old boy thrown clear of the wreckage. By HENRY BREAN LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. On a tabletop mountain overlooking Las Vegas, scattered ...


Thu, 09 Jan 2014 05:54:59 -0800

(CNN) — It's a terrifying, life-changing experience that few of us can fully understand: survival of a large plane crash. Only a handful of people have come through major plane crashes alive and alone. CNN Films' "Sole Survivors" examines four of ...

The Inquisitr

The Inquisitr
Mon, 05 Jan 2015 07:00:00 -0800

In 1985, George Lamson Jr. and his father switched seats on board Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 and this decision proved to be prophetic. Moments later the plane crashed, killing 69 others in Reno, Nevada. NTSB investigators determined that ground crew at ...

ABC News

ABC News
Thu, 16 May 2013 18:02:03 -0700

Another person featured in the film is George Lamson, who, at age 17, was the only person found alive after Galaxy Airlines flight 203 went down in Reno in 1985. The documentary follows Lamson as he connects with the few people who know what it's like ...

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