The DC10 flew again yesterday, carrying 100 nervous passengers on Friday the 13th to Baltimore-Washington International from the Chicago airport where 273 persons perished six weeks ago in a similar craft.
United Airlines Flight No. 338 touched down at BWI at 4:05 p.m. yesterday - 17 minutes behind schedule.
"We clapped when we took off," said Dale Dewsberry of Edgewater, Md., returning from an eight-day sales convention. "We clapped even more when we came down."
Before they deplaned, pilot J.D. Smith thanked the passengers for their confidence in United. He did not tell them that he is United's vice president for flight safety.
The plane's departure from Chicago's O'Hare Airport was delayed a half-hour while federal aviation officials carried release documents to United's maintenance office in San Francisco. There, officials certified that required inspections and maintenance had been completed to permit the DC10 airplane to fly.
A Boeing 727 had been scheduled to carry the BWI-bound United passengers from O'Hare. Several passengers said they learned they were boarding a DC10 only at the last minute.
"A lot of people in the terminal looked nervous," said passenger Renee Sowa, who was greeted here by boyfriend Doug Bender, 21, a lab researcher at Johns Hopkins University hospital. Bender handed her a red carnation as she emerged into the terminal.
The wide-bodied jet, which has 40 first-class and 214 coach seats, was less than half-full for the newsmaking flight. There was no last-minute cancellations. "In fact," Smith said, "we picked up 10 or 12 while we were waiting for San Francisco."
"On the airplane, it was a jovial atmosphere," according to Larry Burns, a pin stripe-suited business consultant for Westinghouse. "We all wondered why there were no free drinks."
Dewsberry said he usually doesn't drink on airplanes, but had two drinks this trip. He said the flight steward appeared to be nervous, describing emergency procedures to the passengers. "He muffed a couple of words," said Dewsberry.
Dewsberry said he would not have flown the DC10 if his wife and two small children had been with him. He was greeted by his wife Sharon, daughter Kelli, 7, and son Dale Adam, 3, who was holding a model airplane.
"Most people didn't say anything on the flight," said Sowa. "Most people just read their newspaper and had dinner."
At Baltimore-Washington International, Capt. Smith, a stocky man with 34 years of flight experience, was ushered into United's Red Carpet Room where he extolled the DC10 was "a wonderful airplane, one of the best I've ever flown."
After an hour on the ground in Baltimore, the DC10 took off to return to Chicago as Flight 429 with 127 passengers aboard.
One was Hank Gergovich, a Chicagoan who had driven past the fiery debris of the May 25 crash at O'Hare. He said he tried to get a different flight when he learned what airplane he would be flying, but was unable to find a satisfactory alternative.
Gergovich said that while waiting for takeoff he read a newspaper article about the DC10 "that scared the hell out of me."
Some aboard said - in some cases a bit nervously - that they felt reassured.
"I thought of turning back," said Patty Garrett, holding her 11-month-old daughter in her arms and watching over two toddlers. "But my dad, a retired Air Force pilot, said: 'It's all checked out or they wouldn't let it fly.'"
Former TWA pilot Doug Huff thought the whole furor over the DC10 had been silly. "I think the FAA has been making too much of this," he said. "Pilots think this airplane is better than any other."
And Roger Cass of Oakland, Calif., said, "I feel of all the airplanes in the air on Friday the 13th this is probably the best and safest."
As the plane touched down in Chicago, the passengers already were forgetting the DC10 upheaval. One man worked a crossword puzzle. Another listened to the stereo music. Two men groused to each other about how they would find gasoline to drive to their home.
As the passengers trooped off the plane, one portly man had a kind word for the stewardess Joni Welch. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" he said.
"No," Welch replied. "It was just beautiful."