A chronological history of jet airliner crashes.

Posts tagged “comet

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

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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


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.


January 10, 1954

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.