A chronological history of jet airliner crashes.


August 21, 1963

Leningrad, Soviet Union: An Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-124, registration SSSR-45021, lands in the Neva River outside of Leningrad after a harrowing descent. All passengers and crew survive, while the citizens of Leningrad were given a spectacle of a landing by the stricken plane.

After departing from Tallinn, Estonia, the Tupolev pilots reported that the nose landing gear carriage did not retract after takeoff and failed to respond in any way from the flight deck. The flight was immediately diverted to Leningrad where pilots began to take turns attempting to lock the nose landing gear into place with a stick from an access hatch in the a coat closet. The crew struggled with getting the hatch to lock into place, fearing to attempt to land without a clean lock on the gear, they continued to circle on the outskirts of the city, rotating pilots after one got tired. In the midst of the attempts, the plane suffered a double-engine failure and the pilots managed to land the plane in the river. Citizens of Leningrad reported that the plane had lined up with the river, missing the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge by only 100 feet and the Alexander Nevsky Bridge, under construction at the time, before splashing down in the 1,000 foot wide river.

Investigators would later learn that the crew, becoming so preoccupied with the landing gear, completely missed that they were out of fuel and that the double-engine failure was due to fuel starvation. The plane was nearly completely intact as it landed in the river right beside a river barge, who tossed a line to the cabin crew through an ejected windscreen who hooked it to the cabin. The tug pulled the plane to shore where the passengers and crew were able to exit the plane via a roof hatch in the fuselage.

Scene from the wreck

A scene from survivors on the beach after the crash.

Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-124


July 27, 1963

Bombay, India: For the second time in a little over a year, United Arab Airlines Flight 869, fell from the sky taking all sixty-three souls with it. The De Havilland Comet, registration SU-ALD, plummeted into the ocean off of the Indian coast.

The plane originated in Tokyo and had already had one stopover in Hong Kong and Bangkok. From Bombay, the plane was to continue on to Bahrain before ending in Cairo. Upon attempting a landing at the Bombay Airport, the pilots reported in at FL (flight level) 70 and requested descent to FL 40, which was granted by air traffic control. Control warned the pilots of severe turbulence around six or seven miles west of the airport, which the plane was already nearing on its VOR approach to the airport.

The flight began to take evasive maneuvers and reported heavy turbulence and violent storms in their midst. Controllers advised caution and offered a go-around route circumventing the storm. Pilots had just began to execute the maneuver when all contact was lost without warning. Controllers reported that there had been no distress call or reports of any problems from the crew.

Boy Scout Memorial

As the plane had crashed in deep water off the coast of India and there was little to no wreckage for investigators to examine, the cause of the crash was attributed to loss of control of the craft due to severe turbulence and violent storm activity.

Perhaps saddest of all, was that among the fifty-five passengers, were twenty-six Boy Scouts from the Philippines, on their way to a convention in Greece. The loss of the boys caused a great mourning in their town and country. A memorial was constructed in Quezon City, Philippines to mark the passing of the boys and several streets on the city’s south side were named in their honor as well.

United Arab Airlines Comet

February 12, 1963

Everglades National Park, Florida: In the early afternoon on a stormy February day, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 705, registration N724US, fell into the Everglades roughly thirty-seven miles southwest of Miami International Airport. The Boeing 720 was the first 720 to have been involved in an accident, sending officials from the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) into a frenzy to find out if something was wrong with the relatively new plane.

The Boeing 720 was equipped with a CVR (cockpit voice recorder) so piecing the day’s events back together proved to be fairly simple, right up until the point of the crash. There were severe thunderstorms in the area that day, so air traffic controllers vectored the jet airliner out on a southerly route, instructing the flight to fly south, then loop over the storms, seeking out a stable route through the storm. Pilots radioed that they did indeed see a pathway through the storms, but advised the ATC to offer other flights a different route, as the one that they chose was closing quickly.

The FDR along with the transmissions from the crew pieced together a roller-coaster ride for the flight before it plummeted to the swamp below, taking all 43 souls with it. The flight data recorder measured climbs at a rate of 9,000 feet per minute and g-forces ranging from 1.5 to -2.8. When the plane suddenly dove below 10,000 feet, the forward fuselage broke free from the rest of the plane from the incredible stresses that had been put upon the airframe. The forward fuselage broke upward, peeling back along the top of the cabin, while the vertical stabilizer broke free and fell of the port side of the craft. Investigators found that all four engines had broken free during the fall and were scattered around the debris zone.

The NTSB finally reported that the plane came down because of the interaction between the plane and severe vertical air drafts and large longitudinal control displacements, also known as severe turbulence.

Northwest Boeing 720

July 19, 1962

Khao Yai, Thailand: United Arab Airlines, Flight 869, registration SU-AMW, was an international passenger jet scheduled to fly from Hong Kong to Cairo with a stopover in Bangkok. The De Havilland DH-106 Comet had a very uneventful flight from takeoff, even though the plane was an older plane, it seemed like a normal flight.

Air traffic control in Thailand recorded no problems with the flight as the plane began its approach to the airport in Bangkok, before the plane vanished from radar. Using the distance from ground-based radar, rescue teams combed the Khao Yai mountain, some 59 miles northeast of the airport. No survivors were found, meaning that all 18 passengers and 8 crew aboard, died in the crash.

It is important to remember that at the time, only primary radar was in use in airports so things like the altitude of the plane at the crash were not known, but by examining the crash site, investigators determined that the plane had hit the mountain while cruising at near the same altitude. Without a FDR, investigators blamed the crash on the pilots calculations which “resulted in grave errors of time and distance in his computations”.

A United Arab Airlines Comet

July 7, 1962

Junnar, Maharashtra, India: Alitalia Flight 771, registration I-DIWD, a Douglas DC-8-43 approaching the third stopover on a multi-leg flight, crashed into a hill northeast of Bombay, taking all souls aboard with it.

The flight began it’s flight in Sydney before continuing to several stopovers, including Bombay, before landing back in Rome. Investigators found that the plane had crashed in a relatively gentle angle of attack, implying that the crew was trying to pull up away from the hill when it contacted the terrain.

Investigators, after talking with Alitalia officials, mentioned that for the pilots, this route was relatively new and that their maps of the area where the plane crashed were not detailed nor current. This led investigators to conclude that navigation errors led the pilot to believe that he was closer to Bombay than he was.

An Alitalia Douglas DC-8

June 30, 1962

Beryozovsky District, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia: A Tupolev Tu-104 from the Aeroflot Airline, registration SSSR-42370, disappears from radar after some troubling and confusing reports from the cabin crew. Traffic controllers reported a chaotic cabin and a strange background noise before the end of transmission from the Russian jetliner. The Tupolev was on a flight from Khabarovsk to Moscow with two intermediate stops, one in Irkutsk.

Soon, after the takeoff from Irkutsk, the pilots made a preliminary call to Krasnoyarsk air traffic control (ATC) and got clearance to enter the airspace. A few minutes later, controllers reported an incoherent emergency call from the Tupolev cabin crew. Controllers also reported a strange background noise that they could not identify. Moments later, all of their hails to the Tupolev went unanswered and emergency crews were dispatched to the scene.

Investigators soon discovered that the plane impacted the ground in an inverted (cabin side down) position and at a relatively severe angle of around 40 degrees. Investigators concluded that the plane came down from disorientation of the pilots in the cloud cover, but further investigation revealed a strange substance on the left side of the fuselage, a propellant that should not have been there. Later findings show that the propellant was used in an anti-aircraft missile that the Krasnoyarsk defense force used regularly. Officials of the krai later admitted to an error in a military training exercise that let the missile lock on to the Tupolev, which impacted the airliner. Officials later correlated the strange sound heard on the voice transmissions as that of the missile system closing on the plane. With 76 passengers and 8 crew, the crash marked the worst aviation disaster in Russia at that time.

An Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104

June 22, 1962

Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadaloupe: On what was to be the end of the third leg of a multi-stop flight from Paris, France to Santiago, Chile, Air France Flight 117, a Boeing 707, registration F-BHST, crashed on approach to the airport after only four months in service. Very little is known of what happened on that fateful flight other than several contributing factors seemed to have doomed the flight from the beginning so that it went down with all 113 souls aboard. When officials and investigators began to piece together the events of that day, multiple issues seemed to give rise to an inevitable downed craft.

The first thing that investigators noted was that the weather was punishing over Guadaloupe at the time of the attempted landing, with violent thunderstorms and a very low cloud ceiling. This, along with an airport that is surrounded by mountains which requires a steep ascent glide plane did not help matters any. Investigators also discovered that the VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) finder was not serviceable at the time of the attempted landing. The crew did report that they had found the Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) and were on course for landing, a faulty Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) caused by the storm, put the plane 15km off course from their glide path. The plane crashed into a hillside and killed all those aboard.

While investigators couldn’t conclude a single cause for the crash, the combination of the previously mentioned elements led them to believe that all of these contributing factors made for an impossible safe landing.

An Air France Boeing 707