On January 25, 1990, Avianca Flight 52 had been in a holding pattern over New York for over one hour due to fog limiting arrivals and departures into John F. Kennedy International Airport. During this hold, the aircraft was exhausting its reserve fuel supply, which would have allowed it to divert to its alternate, Boston, in case of an emergency or situation such as this one.
Seventy-seven minutes after entering the hold, New York Air Traffic Control asked the crew how long they could continue to hold, to which the first officer replied …about five minutes. The First Officer then stated that their alternate was Boston, but since they had been holding for so long they would not be able to make it anymore; the controller then cleared the aircraft for an approach to runway 22L.
As Flight 52 flew the ILS approach, they encountered wind shear at an altitude of less than 500 feet (150 m) and the plane descended below the glideslope, almost crashing into the ground short of the runway. As a result, a missed approach was initiated. Air traffic controllers had only informed the flight of wind shear at 1,500 feet (460 m). At this point, the plane did not have enough fuel for another approach.
The crew alerted the controller that they were low on fuel and in a subsequent transmission stated “We’re running out of fuel, sir.” The controller asked the crew to climb to which the first officer replied “No, sir, we’re running out of fuel.”
Moments later, the number four engine flamed out, shortly followed by the other three. With the aircraft’s main source of electrical power, its generators, now gone and with only battery power remaining, automatic load shedding would have caused many non-essential electrical systems to lose power and the cabin would have been plunged into darkness. Within seconds, the aircraft had lost thrust from its 4 engines, causing it to plunge into the small, wealthy village of Cove Neck on northern Long Island, in Oyster Bay; 15 miles (24 km) from the airport.
The aircraft struck the ground and slid down a hill in the town, splitting into two pieces as it reached the bottom. The impact snapped off the cockpit and it landed over 100 feet (30 m) away in the side of an unoccupied house. 73 passengers and crew died, while 85 survived with injuries.
Volunteer fire departments through out Nassau and Suffolk counties worked for more then 2 days. Operations were under the command of Chief Thomas Reardon (Oyster Bay Fire Co. #1) and Chief Robert Bagan (Atlantic Steamer Fire Co.)