Excerpt: 'Weather's Greatest Mysteries Solved!' by Randy Cerveny

The investigator shook his head. "I thought perhaps the plane might have gotten caught in the gust front from that line of thunderstorms in the area at the time of the crash, but the timing just doesn't match up. From the tower, I learned that there was a small Beechcraft Baron that touched down on this very runway just three minutes before Eastern 66 made its final approach. Sure seems to me that a large-scale gust front would have impacted that small Beechcraft a hell of a lot more than this massive Boeing 727!"

His colleague nodded. "But then what caused Flight 66 to literally fall out of the sky some two thousand feet before the runway?"

The investigator pondered the question for a long moment as the drizzle continued to fall around them. He clicked off the cassette recorder and then resolutely looked at his colleague. "I think, Jim, we have to bring in a weather expert on this one. And for this one," he said, glancing over the wreckage of Eastern Flight 66, "I'm pretty sure that we're going to need the best in the business!"

The expert who was brought in to investigate the deadly Eastern Airlines 66 crash was the legendary meteorologist Tetsuya "Ted" Fujita. In conducting that investigation, he made a startling discovery of a completely unknown type of weather, an event that we now call a microburst. Before we delve into the science of microbursts, let's first introduce the man who is credited with their discovery. Ted Fujita was born on October 23, 1920, in Kitakyushu City, Japan. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Meiji College of Technology in 1943 and, by the next year, became an assistant professor of physics at that institute where he began to study weather. By 1953, he earned his doctoral degree from Tokyo University in 1953 with an analytical study of typhoons.

But tropical typhoons weren't Fujita's main interests -- he was much more intrigued with continental severe storms, the kind that produce tornadoes. When he personally observed a severe Japanese thunderstorm during the summer of 1947 from the wonderful vantage point of a mountain observatory, he proceeded to write a detailed letter about the storm to one of the distinguished meteorologists of the time, Dr. Horace Byers of the University of Chicago. Fujita's letter relayed his speculations about possible conflicting wind patterns inside the storm. Byers was so impressed with Fujita's detailed reasoning that he convinced Fujita to come to the University of Chicago in 1953. It was at that university that Fujita was finally able to devote the rest of his life to the violent weather that so intrigued him. After becoming an associate professor in geophysical sciences in 1962, he quickly reached the rank of full professor by 1965. As part of his work at Chicago, he adroitly directed the Satellite and Mesometeorology Research project and then the Wind Research Laboratory. He is probably best known for the creation of the F-scale, which is used to rank tornadoes based on their destruction. In regard to our current mystery, Dr. Fujita was asked in 1976 to investigate the gruesome crash of Eastern Flight 66 at JFK Airport in New York.

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