On the 21st of January 2000 at 3:50pm, a  McDonnel Douglas MD83 flies above the Pacific Ocean, about 25 miles off the Californian coast of the United States. Alaska Airlines flight 261 departed from the international airport at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico about 2 and a half hours ago, bound for the United States. Its first planned stop is San Francisco, California, before its final destination of Seattle in the state of Washington. On board the flight are 83 passengers and 5 crew members. As well as the 5 crew members, an additional 25 passengers are connected with the airline in some way. It is common for Alaska Airlines to use underbooked flights to transport personnel. Today the McDonnell Douglas MD83 is being crewed by two highly experienced pilots. The Captain, Ted Thompson aged 53 is an air force veteran and has amassed nearly 18,000 hours of flight experience including more than 4,000 as pilot in command of the MD-80 series of aircraft. He is supported by First Officer Bill Tansky, aged 57 with more than 8,000 hours flight experience, almost all of which are at the controls of the MD-80 series of aircraft. Tansky is two years away from retirement from Alaska Airlines after a successful career. The MD-80 series of aircraft is derived from the venerable DC-9, with the fuselage being lengthened, more fuel efficient engines being fitted and advanced avionics being provided.

At this moment a crisis is unfolding in the aircraft which had its origins years earlier. What starts as a routine flight will turn into a battle between the pilots and the aircraft which will destroy them both.

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