Delta Airlines is garnering praise for what might have been a terrible disaster had things not gone to plan -- the company flew a plane as scheduled from New York to Puerto Rico and back as Hurricane Irma encroached on the island. All passengers made it safely to their destinations.
A radar image from flight-tracking website Flightradar24 displayed the plane flying along a narrow path on the outer edge of Irma's 185-mph winds on Sept. 6. According to the Miami Herald, most flights to Puerto Rico had been canceled from Sept. 5 through Sept. 7.
Jason Rabinowitz, who calls himself an "aviation geek" according to the Washington Post, was watching the flights on Flightradar24 as Delta flew close to the storm. He noted that Jet Blue and American Airlines flights had already turned around. According to HuffPost, these flights departed from Miami International Airport and Ft. Lauderdale International Airport.
"You really want to fly into SJU during a category 5 hurricane, DL431? Everyone else has turned around," Rabinowitz said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Flightradar24 also tweeted about the flight: "Where others have turned back, Delta #DL431 presses on."
The Washington Post reports that the plane landed in San Juan just after 12 p.m. and took off 40 minutes later.
“Amazing stuff,” Rabinowitz tweeted as the plane departed.
HuffPost reports that Rabinowitz had acknowledged that Delta left 25 minutes early from New York so as to leave Puerto Rico earlier.
The return flight, Delta Flight 302, delivered 173 passengers back to John F. Kennedy International Airport at 4:22 p.m, over 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
According to Delta, its meteorology team had deemed the plane safe to fly into the storm. Winds were recorded at 28 mph with gusts up to 30 mph -- well under the maximum limits for their Boeing 737-900ER plane to operate safely. There was only light rain at the time of landing.
"Our meteorology team is the best in the business," said Erik Snell, vice president of Delta's 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 Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reports that San Juan was hit by historic winds of up to 62 mph later that same day.
No other flights departed from San Juan after Delta left. The Washington Post reports that air traffic control has since ended all operations.
Sources: Washington Post, HuffPost, Miami Herald, Jason Rabinowitz/Twitter (2), Flightradar24/Twitter / Featured Image: Gail Snyder, III/Flickr / Embedded Images: Flightradar24 via Jason Rabinowitz/Twitter