Commercial flights are getting safer and safer by the day, however, there have been incidents in the past that steered people away from them. A primary example of this was Turkish Airlines Flight 981 on 3 March 1974, which resulted in the death of 346 people on board.
Information About the Flight
The flight was a scheduled flight from Istanbul Yesilkoy Airport to London Heathrow Airport with a stop at Orly Airport in Paris. The plane flown was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, registration TC-JAV. On the flight there were 335 passengers and 11 crew totaling 346 occupants. The cockpit crew were of Turkish Nationality. The flight’s Captain was Nejat Berkoz with 7,000 hours of flight under his name and the First Officer of the flight was Oral Ulusman with 5,600 hours of flight. Flight Engineer Erhan Ozer had 2,120 hours of flying experience. Flight attendants were four from the United Kingdom, three from France and one from Turkey.
The Flight and The Accident
Turkish Airlines Flight 981 took off from İstanbul at 07:57 local time and landed at Orly Airport at 11:02 local time. Up until this point, the flight was carrying 167 passengers, 50 of the passengers disembarked in Paris. The second leg of the flight from Paris to London was normally underbooked. However, a strike by the British European Airways caused travelers going to London to be stranded. This resulted in them being booked to Flight 981, and therefore delaying the departure by 30 minutes.
Flight 981 departed from the Orly Airport at 12:32. Shortly after the aircraft passing the French town Meaux, the rear left cargo door blew off. This resulted in the pressurization of the passenger cabin. The recorded pressure was 36 kPa or 5.2 psi. The pressurized cabin was ripped away from the aircraft resulting in 6 passengers being blown off the plane. The accident also damaged crucial parts of the plane mainly backup control cables. The loss of these cables would mean that the pilots lost the ability to control the elevators, rudder, and number two engine. This loss of control meant that the pilots would lose control of the entirety of the aircraft.
Seventy-seven seconds after the cargo door being blown off, the flight crashed into the trees in Oise, France. At the point of impact, the aircraft was traveling at a speed of 423 knots. The crash resulted in the death of all on board.
The French Minister of Transport appointed a commission to investigate the crash. The investigation noted that during a stop in Turkey, the ground crew filed less that 6.4 millimeters of the cargo door’s locking pins after facing difficulty closing the door. Subsequent investigations revealed that the door only withstood 15 psi of pressure, whereas it should have been able to withstand 300 psi of pressure.
The loss of 346 occupants meant that, at the time, the flight was deadliest single-aircraft accident until 12 of August 1985, when Japan Airlines Flight 123 suffered a crash which would result in the loss of 520 out of 524 occupants on board.