A Delta Air Lines flight won a daring race against one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, braving hurricane-force winds to evacuate a plane-load of people from Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

The flight-tracking website FlightRader24 showed radar images of the Boeing 737 flying a narrow route between a band of the swirling storm and Irma’s central mass. The pilots left the tarmac at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport with 173 people, starting the return journey to New York’s JFK less than an hour after touching down.

The nail-biting flight was lauded by aviation enthusiasts on social media as they watched Delta Flight 431 head south into the dangerous storm in real time.

“Where others have turned back, Delta #DL431 presses on,” FlightRader24 tweeted.

According to tracking data, the plane landed at 11:58 a.m. ET and departed at 12:43 p.m., as Irma’s strength intensified. Several other flights turned around after the storm started to move over the airport.

“You really want to fly into SJU during a category 5 hurricane, DL431? Everyone else has turned around,” asked self-described aviation geek Jason Rabinowitz on Twitter as the flight continued its approach.

Delta Flight 431 is said to have been the last one to depart San Juan’s airport before Irma slammed into the island. Facebook user Wladimir Castro posted a video of the plane departing the airport as heavy winds and rain lashed the pavement.

The flight landed back in New York at 4:16 p.m., 46 minutes ahead of schedule, according to FlightRadar24.

It may have looked terrifying, but Delta maintains their pilots had everything under control. Erik Snell, a vice-president with the Atlanta-based carrier, said meteorologists worked with the flight crew and determined it was safe to fly.

While the efforts of the pilots are undeniably noteworthy, others played a major role. The rapid turn-around would not have been possible without local air traffic control, fuelling and support staff, not to mention the Delta flight crew who got 173 passengers on board and seated before take-off.

Rabinowitz tweeted that the feat was the aviation equivalent of a Formula 1-style pit stop.

“An absolutely amazing job here by @Delta forecasters, dispatchers, flight and ground crews. Full flight back up to JFK,” he wrote.

“@Delta goes big, then goes home. Impressive work by meteorologists, dispatchers, and crews,” tweeted FlightRadar24.