June 3, 1962
Orly Airport, Paris, France: Air France Flight 007, a Boeing 707, registration F-BHSM, begins to taxi down the runway and lines up for takeoff from Paris’s Orly Airport on a chartered flight to Atlanta, Georgia via Idlewild Airport in New York. Pilots began the takeoff sequence and accelerated down the runway, passing V1 and attempting to take off. Witnesses, however, reported that while the nose of the plane rotated, the main landing gear never got off of the runway. The plane began to power down immediately, and brakes were applied, but not before the fully fueled, fully loaded jet ran off the end of the runway, collapsing to the ground and bursting into flames.
The control tower at Orly reported that the pilots had radioed that a problem with the elevator controls, making it impossible for them to complete the rotation and get the plane off of the ground. Pilots then initiated an emergency stop. The pilots immediately initiated the thrust reversers as well as the brakes for the tires. Witness reported that the brakes were applied so hard that it shredded the tires of the landing gear. Investigators found that the front and left-side landing gear suffered the worst damage from the stop attempt, shredding all of the tires and damaging the landing gear severely. When the aircraft continued off of the end of the runway, the left landing gear support collapsed along with the undercarriage and the fully-fueled plane burst into flames.
Emergency crews rushed to the scene to put out the fire and rescue the survivors, but the only survivors from the wreckage were two airline attendants who had been strapped into the tailpiece of the plane. All of the other 130 souls on board perished. Investigators began to sift the the wreckage and catalog the state and functional qualities of the components on board. After reviewing the tower recording of the pilots complaining of elevator trouble, investigators searched for and found the elevator control motor. The engine was completely seized, thereby making it impossible for the plane to take off. It is unclear whether the elevator control motor seized because of a maintenance deficiency or design flaw, but investigators had their cause.
This accident had the distinction of having a severe effect on one city in particular. The airliner had been chartered by a group of Atlanta, Georgia arts supporters. In fact, 106 of the passengers were part of the Atlanta Art Association and were returning home from a month-long tour of Europe, including a momentous visit to the Louvre in Paris. The Louvre had in fact considered sending the well known painting “Whistler’s Mother” to an Atlanta museum on the flight, but deferred to later in the year. After the loss of so many patrons of the arts, the Louvre did donate a Rodin sculpture, The Shade, to the High Museum in Atlanta for a memorial to those who died on the flight. While some say it was a coincidence, others just called it commentary on the news of the day, but artist Andy Warhol created a newsprint ad piece called “129 Die in Jet” (seen on right) which came out shortly after the news of Flight 007 (At the time of the actual crash, another attendant had survived, but later died in hospital, raising the death count from 129 to 130).