At 23:41:40 Miami approach contacted the flight and granted the crew's request to turn around by clearing him for a left turn heading 180 degrees. At 23:42:05 the first officer suddenly realized that the altitude had dropped. Just seven seconds afterwards, while in a left bank of 28deg, the TriStar's no. 1 engine struck the ground, followed by the left main gear. The aircraft disintegrated, scattering wreckage over an area of flat marshland, covering a 1600 feet x 300 feet area.
The plane was traveling 227 miles per hour when it flew into the ground. The left wingtip hit first, then the left engine and the left landing gear. Together they slashed three trails through the saw grass, each five feet wide and more than 100 feet long. When the main part of the fuselage hit the ground it continued to move through the grass and water, disintegrating as it went. From first impact to last movement the Whisperliner traveled more than one third of a mile. Midway along the path, the plane slewed around until it was sliding backward. The great white fuselage burst into five large pieces and countless fragments.
Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 was a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 1 jet that crashed into the Florida Everglades on the night of December 29, 1972, causing 101 fatalities (77 initial crash survivors, two died shortly afterward). The crash was a result of the flight crew's failure to recognize a deactivation of the autopilot during their attempt to troubleshoot a malfunction of the landing gear position indicator system. As a result, the flight gradually lost altitude while the flight crew was preoccupied and eventually crashed. It was the first crash of a wide-body aircraft and, at the time, the deadliest in the United States.