A chronological history of jet airliner crashes.

April 8, 1954

Mediterranean Ocean between Naples and Stromboli: South African Airways Flight 201 on the second leg of a flight that originated in London, would carry on to Cairo and finally land in Johannesburg, disappears from radio contact. The De Havilland Comet, registration G-ALYY, was the second Comet lost in a recent time frame and was startlingly similar to a previous crash that had also taken off from Rome’s Ciampano airport in the way that it had disappeared shortly after takeoff.

The SAA flight shared even more mysterious coincidences, such as being inspected by Gerry Bull, the man who’d inspected BOAC’s flight 781 that had crashed three months earlier. Captain William Mostert reported favorable flying conditions with a clear, but overcast sky. He reported in from three separate beacons as the plane gained altitude to it’s designated cruising altitude. Flight 201 radioed in an ETA for Cairo at 19:07 UTC before disappearing from the skies, never to be heard from again.

The Italian sea-rescue personnel were dispatched as well as two ships from the British navy to recover the downed plane, but it was a BEA plane that spotted the wreckage and found no survivors, leaving all twenty-one dead (14 passengers, 7 crew). The wreck, unlike the crash of flight 781, was in water over one thousand meters deep, so salvage was ruled impractical. Some wreckage was recoverable and while nothing definitive could be made, it is conjectured that the same explosive decompression that tore flight 781 apart, also downed flight 201.

Preliminary reports place fault on not the fiberglass direction finder window, as in flight 781, but in the structural choice of square windows in the Comet at that time. The squared ends of the windows caused excess metal fatigue, as opposed to a rounded window corner, which distributed fatigue more evenly. It was eventually decided that this factor led to the crash that took flight 201. From that point on, all aircraft were constructed with wide-radius window corners.


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