January 10, 1954
Mediterranean Sea, between the islands of Elba and Montecristo: Sixteen minutes into the last leg of a flight from Singapore to London, pieces of a BOAC De Havilland Comet, registration G-ALYP, was seen by several Italian fisherman falling into the sea. The flight had just left Ciampano airport, near Rome for the final leg of its flight and the crew and passengers were eager to get back home. Captain Alan Gibson, one of the youngest pilots in the BOAC ranks, was at the helm. A passing BOAC Argonaut G-ALHJ was in contact with the Comet when suddenly all contact was lost. Heathrow issued a delayed flight warning and finally removed the flight from the arrivals board at 1:30 GMT.
A BOAC maintenance crew inspected the Comet before it’s final journey and deemed her air worthy, but were tragically wrong. After the crash, investigators pulled the wreckage from the sea floor and began their investigation. All of the clues found by the chief examiner, Sir Arnold Hall, led to the same diagnosis, metal fatigue. After close examination, the ADF (antenna direction finder) window in the roof had blown out because of improper riveting techniques and caused an explosive decompression. The plane had broken up in flight and plunged to the icy winter waters below, killing all twenty-nine passengers and six crew members. Fisherman recovered several bodies and small pieces of wreckage from the crash site and coroners determined that most all passengers shared broken bones as well as skull fractures and ruptured lungs. This was in agreement with the assumption of explosive decompression.
The accident prompted BOAC to pull all Comets from their fleet and investigate for signs of metal stress and fatigue. BOAC, after a thorough inspection, gave the green light on their Comets saying that if they didn’t have the greatest confidence in their fleet, they wouldn’t let them off of the ground. This proved to be an ominous promise.