Radar data of the plane’s flight path offered a spectacular show for aviation enthusiasts who followed in real time as Delta Flight 431 headed south right into the dangerous storm before noon.
“Where others have turned back, Delta #DL431 presses on,” tweeted the Flightradar24, which tracks air traffic in real time. According to the tracking data, the plane landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport at 11:58 a.m. and departed at 12:43 p.m. as DL302.
Jason Rabinowitz, a self-described aviation geek tweeted the flight’s trajectory in real time, uploading images of the plane climbing out of San Juan between the outer band of Irma and the core of the storm.
“Amazing stuff,” Rabinowitz said.
Delta officials said the airline operated its last scheduled flight to and from San Juan “armed with the latest forecast from the airline’s meteorology team.” Flight 431 arrived a minute after noon to nine miles of visibility and light rain, the airline said. Winds were well below operating limits for the 737-900ER to safely operate at around 28 mph, and gusts up to 36 mph. Flight 302 departed San Juan with 173 passengers on board, the airline said.
“Our meteorology team is the best in the business,” said Erik Snell, vice president for Delta operations and customer center. “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 conditions worsened soon after departure. Heavy rain and historic winds lashed Puerto Rico’s northeast coast Wednesday as Irma roared through the Caribbean on its way to Florida. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reported gust of 62 miles per hour in San Juan late Wednesday afternoon and in Culebra, Puerto Rico, a small island 17 miles east of the mainland, a wind gust registered 111 miles per hour.
The flight was the last one in and out of San Juan, before the air traffic control ceased operations.
This post has been updated.