Air India Flight 855

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Air India Flight 855

VT-EBD Emperor Ashoka at Paris-Orly Airport on January 1, 1976, two years before the accident.
Accident summary
Date January 1, 1978
Summary Instrument malfunction, spatial disorientation, Pilot error (for being disoriented)
Site Arabian Sea, near Bombay, India
Passengers 190
Crew 23
Fatalities 213 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 747-237B
Aircraft name Emperor Ashoka
Operator Air India
Registration VT-EBD
Flight origin Sahar International Airport
Bombay, India
Destination Dubai International Airport
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Air India Flight 855 was a scheduled passenger flight that crashed during the evening of New Years Day, January 1, 1978 about 3 km (1.9 mi) off the coast of Bandra, Bombay (now Mumbai), India. All 213 lives on board were lost. The crash is believed to have been caused by the captain having become spatially disoriented after the failure of one of the flight instruments in the cockpit.


The aircraft involved was a Boeing 747-237B, registration VT-EBD, named the "Emperor Ashoka". It was the first 747 delivered to Air India. When it was delivered in April 1971, Air India had proclaimed it as the "747th wonder of the world", and in keeping with their Maharaja motif, used the tagline "Your Palace in the Sky" to describe this new aircraft with a detailed external paint scheme and interesting interior design.

Sequence of events[edit]

The departure was from Bombay's Sahar Airport, (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport). The plane's destination was Dubai International Airport in Dubai, with Captain Madan L. Kukar as the Commander.[1]

Approximately one minute after takeoff from runway 27, the pilot made a scheduled right turn upon crossing the Bombay coastline over the Arabian Sea, after which the aircraft briefly returned to a normal level position. Soon the plane began rolling to the left, and never regained level flight.

The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage revealed the Captain made a verbal comment about his Attitude Indicator (AI) having "toppled", meaning that it was still showing the aircraft in a right bank. The First Officer, whose presumably functional AI was now showing a left bank, said that his AI was also toppled, but there is some belief that the Captain mistakenly took this to mean that both primary AIs were indicating a right bank. It was after sunset and the aircraft was flying over a dark Arabian Sea, leaving the aircrew unable to visually cross-check their AI instrument readings with the actual horizon outside the cockpit windows.

The 747 had a third backup AI in the center instrument panel between the two pilots, and the transcripts of the cockpit conversation show that the Flight Engineer may have been attempting to direct the Captain's attention to that third AI, or perhaps to another instrument called the Turn and Bank Indicator, just five seconds before the plane impacted the sea.

The Captain's mistaken perception of the aircraft situation resulted in his using the flight controls to add more left bank and left rudder, causing the aircraft to rapidly lose altitude. Just 101 seconds after leaving the runway the jet hit the Arabian Sea at an estimated 35 degree nose-down angle. There were no survivors among the 190 passengers and 23 crew members.

Probable cause[edit]

The partially recovered wreckage revealed no evidence of explosion, fire, or any electrical or mechanical failure, and an initial theory of sabotage was ruled out.

The investigation concluded that the probable cause was "due to the irrational control inputs by the captain following complete unawareness of the attitude as his AI had malfunctioned. The crew failed to gain control based on the other flight instruments."

U.S. Federal District Judge James M. Fitzgerald, in a 139-page decision issued 1 November 1985, rejected charges of negligence against the Boeing Company, Lear Siegler Inc, and the Collins Division of Rockwell International Corporation in a suit related to the crash.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mendis, Sean (2004-07-26). "Air India : The story of the aircraft". Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  2. ^ "Theory On Air India Crash Backed By A Pilot". The New York Times. 21 April 1985. 


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 18°58′30″N 72°09′33″E / 18.975°N 72.1592°E / 18.975; 72.1592