Flight records show plane landing in Puerto Rico as storm hit and departing with 170 people on board 40 minutes later
As Hurricane Irma threatened to make landfall in Puerto Rico, most pilots were avoiding the area. Understandably so, perhaps.
One Delta Airlines plane, however, headed straight toward the storm. The pilot landed on the island as it was engulfed and got away again within an hour, taking more than 170 people out of the path of the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
Despite the extreme weather closing in, the airline described conditions as well below operating limits for the aircraft when it arrived. Flight records examined by the Guardian show it arriving in San Juan on Puerto Ricos north coast, and leaving again about 40 minutes later.
Our meteorology team is the best in the business, said Deltas Erik Snell. They took a hard look at the weather data and the track of the storm and worked with the flight crew and dispatcher to agree it was safe to operate the flight. And our flight and ground crews were incredible in their effort to turn the aircraft quickly and safely so the flight could depart well before the hurricane threat.
The flight was the last to leave the island, which has been battered by the category 5 hurricane. It had arrived to nine miles of visibility and light rain. Winds were around 24 knots with gusts up to 31 knots, Delta said.
Its flight was tracked by an enthusiast using the FlightRadar tracking software, which showed it taking off and working its way north between the outer band of Irma and the storms core.
The flight arrived safely at New Yorks JFK airport.
In Puerto Rico, people have been seeking shelter. Carmen Yuln Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, said: This is the first time since I became mayor almost five years ago that people have come to the shelters without anyone having to ask. People are concerned, they are scared. Puerto Ricans cannot fathom what a category 5 hurricane is about. Its something weve never heard of.
Power infrastructure is very, very fragile and we are expecting to be without power for the next four to six months, she told the Guardian.
The death toll rose to eight on Thursday morning as the storm advanced across the Caribbean and toward the US mainland.