A chronological history of jet airliner crashes.


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).

An Air France Boeing 707


May 22, 1962

Unionville, Iowa: At approximately 9:17 p.m. on May 22, Continental Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 707, registration N70775, from Chicago to Kansas City experienced an explosive decompression and broke apart mid-air before falling to earth in a clover field near Centerville, Iowa in the Union Township. All forty-five souls aboard lost their lives in what became a first in commercial aviation history, the crash of a jet airliner via sabotage.

At 9:22, a B-47 Stratojet from nearby Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka, Kansas, reported seeing fiery debris falling from the sky and landing with devastating effect. Air traffic controllers had no reports from the crew, other than just before they lost contact, Flight 11 reported a deviation in course to avoid a line of thunderstorms. Controllers wondered if the weather had something to do with the crash, but investigators soon discovered something more sinister was afoot.

Investigators found the crash site to distributed over a large debris field, with the tail section quite a distance away from the main fuselage. Investigators also began to see signs of peeled skin on the fuselage indicating an explosive force outward. The point of ignition seemed to come from the lavatory on the right side of the aircraft. Investigators began to work with the FBI and soon began looking at the passenger list. One name stood out almost immediately, Thomas G. Doty. The reason that his name stood out among the others was that Mr. Doty had recently purchased a $150,000 life insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha, the maximum at the time. He also purchased additional insurance at the airport. Mr. Doty had a criminal past and was due to appear in court int he near future for an armed robbery attempt. He was also married and had a small daughter. Investigators later learned that in the week prior to the flight, Mr. Doty purchased six sticks of dynamite for $0.29 apiece.

When chemical analysis on the fuselage around the point of decompression was complete, the presence of dynamite residue confirmed investigators suspicions. The team concluded that Mr. Doty brought the dynamite on board, set the timer, placed the package in the starboard lavatory and settled into his seat thinking that his family would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. It is unknown whether Mutual of Omaha actually paid out the policy or ruled the death as a suicide.

A Continental Airlines Boeing 707

March 1, 1962

Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York: Shortly after takeoff, American Airlines Flight 1 banked sharply to the left before flipping completely over and diving almost vertically into Pumpkin Patch Channel in Jamaica Bay taking with it all 95 souls. Flight 1 from New York to Los Angeles (American Airlines still uses this flight number) took off without a hitch and had just began to approach cruising altitude when the plane seemingly flipped over and fell from the sky of its own accord. Air traffic controllers said that pilots reported that the automatic pilot had caused the flip and they were desperately trying to regain control off the craft.

The Boeing 707, registration N7506A, was three years old and had just over 8000 flight hours on it. The last inspection of the craft had been at 7900 hours. When the plane landed in the marshy channel in Queens, residents of Long Island recalled the enormous sound created as well as the shaking of coastal houses. The fully-fueled plane burst into flame upon impact creating a three-alarm fire which took firefighters just over half an hour to control. Investigators at the scene recalled that very few bodies remained intact, so it was decided that family could not come to identify bodies, but rather dental records would be used by coroners.

After combing over the wreckage site for many days, the investigation team noticed that a bolt and cotter pin were missing from the rudder mechanism aboard the 707. Investigators pointed to this until the FDR (flight data recorder) reported that the plane had suffered electrical troubles in the automatic piloting system. Frayed wiring and arcing evidence were present in the control box of the automatic pilot, causing investigators to inspect the Bendix facility in New Jersey which produced the component. There investigators found employees using tweezers to bundle wires together, causing minor fraying and stripping of the wires. Company officials denied that this damage was the culprit as they did sixty-one separate quality control tests during the manufacture of the component. Still investigators were sure that the fraying and arcing caused the automatic pilot malfunction, contributing to the crash.

Several notable people died on the flight including Linda Eastman’s mother, Louise, Arnold Kirkeby, hotel magnate, Alton Jones, multi-millionaire, and Irving Rubine, producer.

An American Airlines Boeing 707

November 23, 1961

São Paulo, Brazil: Shortly after takeoff from Viracopos-Campinas International Airport, Aerolíneas Argentinas Flight 322 , a De Havilland Comet, registration LV-AHR, crashed into some treetops past the end of the runway and exploded into flames. The plane was a De Havilland Comet 4, registration LV-AHR, that had just taken off on the second leg of an international flight that started in Buenos Aires and after São Paulo would continue on to Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago) before finishing in New York City.

The plane took off normally and climbed to 100 meters before falling slightly and clipping some trees, reducing speed until the plane fell to earth taking all 52 souls on board with it. There were no survivors. The weather service in Brazil noted that while the sky was completely overcast, weather did not play a part in the crash while the Argentinian government investigators discovered that the first officer was seated in the left side of the flight deck, which implied that the captain was training the first officer, coaching him from the first officer’s seat.

Argentina concluded that the plane came down due to inadequate training of the first officer using proper IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flying procedures.

An Aerlineas Argentinas De Havilland Comet

September 12, 1961

Douar Doum, Morocco: Air France Flight 2005, a Sud Aviation Caravelle, registration F-BJTB, crash lands upon approach to Rabat-Salè Airport. While the weather had been clear upon takeoff from the Paris-Orly Airport, it quickly deteriorated as the plane neared its destination. Pilots remained in contact with weather services who warned of the coming inclement weather and suggested that they skip the layover and continue to their final destination, Casablanca. Pilots reckoned that they could make the stop in Rabat and began landing procedures using a NDB (Non-Directional Beacon). Tower officials warned the crew that the NDB was not lined up with the runway correctly, but never received a reply to this warning. In fact, the crew were never heard from again. The plane crashed just outside the Rabat-Salè Airport and with no problems reported by the crew of mechanical failure, the crash’s was given up as an “error in instrument reading” as probable cause.

An Air France Sud Caravelle

July 11, 1961

Denver, Colorado: United Airlines Flight 859, a Douglas DC-8-20, registration N8040U veers suddenly off of the runway during landing and crashes into several airport vehicles before bursting into flame. Of the one-hundred and twenty-two aboard, nineteen lose their lives, while dozens more escape with only injuries. While the fire from a ruptured fuel tank was the main cause for the loss of life and limb, the fire department at the airport acted courageously despite antiquated equipment and a lack of support from a nearby airbase and the city of Denver itself.

Investigators, piecing the planes last few moments together, immediately found that Flight 859 had called in with a hydraulic problem. The crew followed the checklist for dealing with a hydraulic problem and everything seemed satisfactory as the DC-8 touched down on the Stapleton runway. However, when the crew initiated the thrust reversers, the reverser buckets on the left side, failed to close. When this happened, it caused an axial shift where the right side engines began pushing back, while the left engines pushed forward, turning the plane onto its destructive path. The craft then plowed across new runway construction, striking several vehicles, causing the nose landing gear to collapse and rupture the right wing fuel tank.

May 30, 1961

Off the coast of Portugal, Atlantic Ocean: Viasa Flight 897, a Douglas DC-8-53, registration PH-DCL fell to the ocean killing all forty-seven passengers and and fourteen crew. With the wreck in deep water, recovery was deemed impractical. The flight was on its third leg, originating in Rome and destined for Caracas, Venezuela. At the time of takeoff, 1:15 UTC, the skies had a 3,700 ft cloud base in the night sky. There were two short transmissions to the control tower at Lisbon before the plane disappeared from the night sky.

Investigators, using the last reports from the DC-8, conjecture that with the low cloud base, the pilots experienced sensory illusions that contradicted their instruments and caused a grievous pilot error. Some also conjecture that the artificial horizon on the plane was malfunctioning. In either case, the plane experienced what pilots call, a graveyard spiral, turning over twice to the left, before an over-correction sent the plane into the ocean at a steep descent. Investigators concluded that the plane entered the water at a twenty-five degree angle, accounting for the pilots pulling up in the last four thousand feet, the plane would have been plummeting from the sky when it hit the water.