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.
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.
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”.
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.