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A History of Convair 880 and 990 Aircraft Accidents
Although the accident history of the Convair 880 and 990 can be considered extensive, especially in relation to the number that entered service, there are several aspects to consider. In the 15-year period between 1960, the year the type entered service, and 1974, there were seven fatal accidents. Four included the CV-990A, the total production of which was only a third of the entire program. However, the first incident did not occur until the original CV-880 had been plying the skies in various countries and climates for seven years.
There are also fatalities per aircraft to consider – from a low of one to a high of 155. Three accidents occurred during the takeoff phase and two during the cruise phase, but were the result of intentionally placed explosive devices, not the airframe or powerplant. deficiency or design defect. Many, just by fate, occurred in clusters, only a few days apart.
“The 880 had an excellent passenger safety record, but suffered numerous training accidents and several crashes after the aircraft were converted to freighters,” according to Jon Proctor in Convair 880 and 990 (World Transport Press, 1996, p .82). “At least 15 hull losses were noted, including several repairable but written off for economic reasons.”
This chapter examines actual passenger transport accidents.
The first occurred on November 5, 1967, when VR-HFX, a CV-880M operated by Cathay Pacific, took off on a multi-sector flight from Kai Tak International Airport, Hong Kong to Calcutta, with stopovers in Saigon and Bangkok. The jet, piloted by Captain JRE Howell, an Australian, and manned by ten other crew members, with 116 passengers on board, simulated its take-off in good weather, but aborted the attempt when it suffered severe vibrations and spun to the right at 122 knots. Despite pulling back and using the fade brake, there was insufficient stopping distance.
It skidded off the runway and flew over a seawall, plunging into Hong Kong harbor, flipping its nose in the process. It finally came to rest 100 yards from the end of the runway and in shallow water. No fire or explosion followed.
The captain went to the cabin to assist with the evacuation. Although met with confusion, there was little panic and the escape was orderly. Helicopters and boats converged on the submerged Convair.
Of the 127 souls on board, 20 required hospitalization, 13 suffered minor injuries, and one, a South Vietnamese woman, died when she could not be extricated from the cabin. The others, ironically, didn’t even keep their feet wet.
The vibration and roll to the right was traced to a loose front wheel on the right side, the culprit of the aborted launch.
Just 16 days after the Cathay Pacific incident, a much deadlier incident occurred – this time during the landing phase.
On November 21, 1967, TWA Flight 128, “Star Stream 880” registered N821TW, departed from its origin in Los Angeles two and a half hours late as door seal problems on the originally intended aircraft led to its replacement by an aircraft arriving from Boston. It was bound for that city alone, with stops in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and broke away from California soil with seven crew and 72 passengers.
The flight itself was routine. There was no landing.
Thirty minutes before the estimated arrival time of 9:06 p.m., he began his descent into Cincinnati, which reported light snow, a ceiling of 1,000 feet, and visibility of 1.5 miles via the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS).
The sleek, swept-wing jet, its passenger windows providing the only light in the black soup as it descended, approached the north-south runway of the Greater Cincinnati Airport. But construction that extended it from 7,200 to 9,000 feet rendered its glideslope, approach lights and center indicator inoperable.
Flight 128 approached from the northwest over the Ohio River, which was at a lower elevation than the airport itself because it was built on a hill on the other side of the waterway. The plane was lined up with the runway and was due to land in no time. But 800 feet below her descent she would never reach the threshold.
Instead, it plowed into an apple orchard in Hebron, Kentucky, owned by BS Wagner, clipping the trees with its wings until successive impacts reduced its momentum and ruptured its fuel tanks. At 20:58, two miles from the runway, a red glow from the fire illuminated the blown snow and marked the crash site.
Seventeen survivors were taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Covington, Kentucky, and three others were taken to Booth Hospital, all in serious condition. The subsequent deaths of some of them left only a dozen survivors among the 82 on board.
The accident, the first Convair 880 operated by a U.S. carrier, was the worst in Greater Cincinnati Airport’s history and the third in a series of similar accidents. The first two included an approach by a cargo plane on November 14, 1961, and an American Airlines Boeing 727-100 four years later on November 8.
As all had runway undershoots, an investigation was launched, but the FAA was unable to find any approach procedure errors or north-south runway deficiencies, stating that the airport “reasonably meets our standards”.
A commonality, at least in the two airliner incidents, was inadequate or non-existent instrument monitoring during the key phase of final approach. In the American case, it was the crew’s failure to monitor their altimeters during the visual approach, while in the TWA case, the first officer failed to provide any altitude or airspeed warning, resulting in the aircraft’s failure to clear obstacles on the approach and subsequent impact on the ground two miles from and 15 feet below the runway.
The third fatality – this time a CV-990A operated by Garuda Indonesia Airways – occurred six months later on 28 May 1968. Flight PK-GJA, departing from Jakarta at 18:00 the previous evening, was connecting the Far East with Amsterdam, Europe on its multi-sector a flight that intermittently went to Singapore, Bangkok, Mumbai, Karachi, Cairo and Rome. However, shortly after take-off from India, it plunged to the ground in a vertical orientation, during its descent it reached a speed it had never exceeded and landed at a distance of 20 miles. All 29 on board and one on the ground were killed. Although no definitive cause was found, sabotage was strongly suspected.
Visibility – or the lack of it – was the cause of another CV-990A accident two years later, on 5 January 1970. Engine failure prompted the return of EC-BNM, operated by Spantax, shortly after a tit-for-tat departure from Stockholm’s Arlanda International. Airport on your charter flight to Las Palmas. Although it took off again without passengers, with the intention of flying to Zurich on three engines for repairs, the cause of its fall to the ground and impact in the surrounding forest proved to be dense fog, which took the lives of five of the ten crew members.
As happened with the Garuda CV-990A, the bomb blasts shot down the other two aircraft.
In the first, on February 21, 1970, HB-ICD, operated by Swissair as flight SR 330, departed Zurich Kloten International Airport with nine crew members and 38 passengers on board for Israel. However, shortly after takeoff, an explosion tore open the rear cargo area.
As smoke billowed through the cabin, the captain called first. The Convair 990A Coronado, which was given immediate clearance to return, begins to circle and is forced to approach the ILS due to low ceiling and limited visibility. However, the damage to the flight surfaces made it difficult to control, so the captain had to use every means to keep the crippled craft in the air, all without success.
The plowing into the village of Wuerenlingen in the Swiss canton of Aargau, 25 miles from Zurich, claimed all 47 lives.
After placing the bomb in a checked suitcase, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine later claimed responsibility for the explosion, which was aimed at an Israeli official on the flight.
The second consecutive detonation incident occurred two years later on 15 June 1972. In this case, Cathay Pacific CV-880M, registered VR-HFZ and operating as Flight 700Z, was flying between Bangkok and Hong Kong when a time bomb, brought on board in a piece of cabin baggage, exploded at flight level Two-Nine-Zero, tearing the airframe into three pieces and sending them torpedoing to the ground, crashing 33 miles southeast of Pleik, in the sparsely populated Central Highlands of South Vietnam, itself 200 miles northeast of Saigon, at 14:00 local time.
The debris created by the build-up of momentum and the devastating impact on the ground was so polarized that the fire didn’t even start. United States Army helicopters were the first to arrive at the crash site. Needless to say, all ten crew and 71 passengers perished.
It was believed that the reason for the sabotage was a long-standing issue, namely collecting money from insurance. The device was also believed to have exploded while the plane was over the South China Sea, leaving no clues as to its cause.
The worst Convair 880 and 990 accident occurred six months later, on 3 December 1972, when 990A, registered EC-BZR and operated by Spantax, performed its take-off at Los Rodeos Airport in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Canary Islands, bound for Munich with seven crew and 148 passengers.
The aircraft, under the command of Captain Daniel Nunez, turned into blinding fog and climbed to 300 feet, at which point the engine failed. A gravity-induced earth orbit burrowed into the ground a thousand feet beyond the runway, taking all life with it.
Although loss of control was cited as the cause by the first officer conducting the takeoff, it was determined that he was rotating at a VR speed 20 knots below that recommended for the aircraft’s gross weight, so the aircraft was unable to develop sufficient lift. establish a positive rate of climb.
The last accident in this 15-year period was the result of a track trespass. While taxiing to the Chicago gate at the end of its Tampa sector as Delta Flight 954, aircraft N8807E crossed the active runway and was intercepted by a North Central DC-9-30, which turned prematurely to attempt to cross it. While there were 15 injuries and one fatality when the DC-9 fell back onto the runway, only one passenger from CV-880 was injured during the subsequent evacuation. However, after cutting off the upper fuselage and clipping the tail, the Convair was damaged beyond repair.
Lewis, W. David and Newton, Wesley Phillips. Delta: An Airline History. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1979.
McClement, Fred. It doesn’t matter where you sit. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1969.
Proctor, Jon. Convair 880 and 990. Miami: World Transport Press, Inc., 1996.
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