Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision
|Date||12 November 1996|
|Summary||Mid-air collision caused by pilot error on Kazakhstan Airlines aircraft|
|Site||Charkhi Dadri, Haryana, India|
|Total fatalities||349 (all)|
A Saudia Boeing 747-100B similar to the one involved in the accident.
|Operator||Saudi Arabian Airlines|
|Flight origin||Indira Gandhi Int'l Airport
|Destination||Dhahran International Airport|
UN-76435, the Kazakhstan Airlines aircraft involved in the accident, in 1994.
|Flight origin||Shymkent Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Indira Gandhi Int'l Airport|
The Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision occurred on 12 November 1996 over the village of Charkhi Dadri, to the west of New Delhi, India. The aircraft involved were a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100B en route from New Delhi to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and a Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76 en route from Shymkent, Kazakhstan, to New Delhi. The crash killed all 349 people on board both planes, making it the world's deadliest mid-air collision, and the third-deadliest aircraft accident in the history of aviation, behind only the Tenerife airport disaster and Japan Airlines Flight 123.
The Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-168B, registration HZ-AIH, was due to operate Flight 763 (SVA763) from Delhi to Dhahran and Jeddah, with 312 occupants on board; the Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76TD, registration UN-76435, was on a charter service from Chimkent to Delhi as KZA1907. SVA763 departed New Delhi at 18:32 local time. KZA1907 was, at the same time, descending to land at New Delhi. Both flights were controlled by approach controller VK Dutta. The crew of SVA763 consisted of Captain Khalid Al Shubaily, First Officer Nazir Khan, and Flight Engineer Edris Arabia. On KZA1907, Gennadi Cherepanov served as the pilot and Igor Repp served as the radio operator.
KZA1907 was cleared to descend to 15,000 feet (4,600 m) when 74 miles (119 km) from the airport while SVA763, traveling on the same airway as KZA1907 but in the opposite direction, was cleared to climb to 14,000 feet (4,300 m). About eight minutes later, around 18:40, KZA1907 reported having reached its assigned altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m) but it was actually lower, at 14,500 feet (4,400 m), and still descending. At this time, Dutta advised the flight, "Identified traffic 12 o'clock, reciprocal Saudia Boeing 747, 10 miles (16 km). Report in sight."
When the controller called KZA1907 again, he received no reply. He warned of the other flight's distance, but it was too late. The two aircraft had collided, the tail of KZA1907 cut through SVA763's left wing and horizontal stabilizer. The crippled Boeing quickly lost control and went into rapidly descending spiral motion towards the ground with fire trailing from the wing. The Boeing broke up in air under the stresses before the wreckage hit the ground at almost 1,135 km/h (705 mph). The Ilyushin remained structurally intact as it went in a steady but rapid and uncontrolled descent until it crashed in a field. Rescuers discovered four critically injured passengers from the Ilyushin, but they all died soon afterwards. Two passengers from the Saudi flight survived the crash, still strapped to their seats, only to die soon after of internal injuries.  In the end, all 312 people on board SVA763 and all 37 people on KZA1907 were killed.
Captain Timothy J. Place, a pilot for the United States Air Force, was the sole eyewitness to the event. He was making an initial approach in a Lockheed C-141B Starlifter when he saw that "a large cloud lit up with an orange glow".
The collision took place about 60 miles (97 km) west of Delhi. The wreckage of the Saudia aircraft crashed near Dhani village, Bhiwani District, Haryana. The Kazakhstani aircraft wreckage hit near Birohar village, Rohtak District, Haryana. This was the first mid-air collision between two commercial aircraft since the Dniprodzerzhynsk mid-air collision in 1979.
Passengers and crews
Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763
An article published in The New York Times on 14 November 1996 stated that 215 Indians who boarded the flight worked in Saudi Arabia; many of them worked or planned to work in blue collar jobs as house maids, drivers, and cooks. The article also stated that 40 Nepalis and three Americans boarded the Saudi flight. According to an article in the same newspaper published a day earlier, the passenger manifest included 17 people of other nationalities, including nine Nepalis, three Pakistanis, two Americans, one Bangladeshi, one Briton, and one Saudi. Twelve of the crew members, including five anti-terrorism officials, were Saudi citizens.
Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907
Thirteen Kyrgyz traders boarded the flight.
Investigation and final report
The crash was investigated by the Lahoti Commission, headed by then-Delhi High Court judge Ramesh Chandra Lahoti. Depositions were taken from the Air Traffic Controllers Guild and the two airlines. The flight data recorders were decoded by Kazakhstani Airlines and Saudia under supervision of air crash investigators in Moscow and Farnborough, England, respectively. The ultimate cause was held to be the failure of Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907's pilot to follow ATC instructions, whether due to cloud turbulence or due to communication problems.
The commission determined that the accident had been the fault of the Kazakhstani Il-76 commander, who (according to FDR evidence) had descended from the assigned altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m) to 14,500 feet (4,400 m) and subsequently 14,000 feet (4,300 m) and even lower. The report ascribed the cause of this serious breach in operating procedure to the lack of English language skills on the part of the Kazakhstani aircraft pilots; they were relying entirely on their radio operator for communications with the ATC. The radio operator did not have his own flight instrumentation but had to look over the pilots' shoulders for a reading. Kazakhstani officials stated that the aircraft had descended while their pilots were fighting turbulence inside a bank of cumulus clouds.
Indian air controllers also complained that the Kazak pilots sometimes confuse their calculations because they are accustomed to using the metric system to calibrate altitude and distances, while all other countries use nautical miles and feet.
Just a few seconds from impact, the Kazakhstani plane climbed slightly and the two planes collided. This was because the radio operator of Kazakhstan 1907 discovered only then that they were not at 15,000 feet and asked the pilot to climb. The captain gave orders for full throttle, and the plane climbed, only to hit the oncoming Saudi plane. The tail of the Kazakhstani plane clipped the left wing of the Saudi jet, severing both parts from their respective planes. Had the Kazakhstani pilots not climbed slightly, it is likely that they would have passed under the Saudi plane.
The recorder of the Saudi plane revealed the pilots reciting the prayer that is required, according to Islamic law, when one faces death. The counsel for the ATC Guild denied the presence of turbulence, quoting meteorological reports, but did state that the collision occurred inside a cloud. This was substantiated by the affidavit of Capt. Place, who was the commander of the aforementioned Lockheed C-141B Starlifter, which was flying into New Delhi at the time of the crash. The members of his crew filed similar affidavits.
Furthermore, Indira Gandhi International Airport did not have secondary surveillance radar, which produces exact readings of aircraft altitudes by reading transponder signals; instead the airport had outdated primary radar, which produced only readings of distance but not altitude. In addition, the civilian airspace around New Delhi had one corridor for departures and arrivals. Most areas separate departures and arrivals into separate corridors. The airspace had one civilian corridor because much of the airspace was taken by the Indian Air Force. Due to the crash, the air-crash investigation report recommended changes to air-traffic procedures and infrastructure in New Delhi's air-space:
- Separation of inbound and outbound aircraft through the creation of 'air corridors'
- Installation of a secondary air-traffic control radar for aircraft altitude data
- Mandatory collision avoidance equipment on commercial aircraft operating in Indian airspace
- Reduction of the airspace over New Delhi that was formerly under exclusive control of the Indian Air Force
The Civil Aviation Authorities in India made it mandatory for all aircraft flying in and out of India to be equipped with an Airborne Collision Avoidance System.
Disaster in popular media
The disaster was again the subject of an episode in the documentary series Mayday on 2 March 2009 entitled "Crash Course", in a wide-screen format with sophisticated computer animations on National Geographic Channel.
- Accident description for HZ-AIH at the Aviation Safety Network
- Accident description for Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 at the Aviation Safety Network
- Kingsley-Jones, Max; Learmount, David (20 September 1996). "Collision raises doubts on ATC routeings". Flight International. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013.
- Burns, John F. (5 May 1997). "One Jet in Crash Over India Ruled Off Course". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 July 2013.
- "Head On - AirCrash" (television documentary). Miditech. Archived from the original on 12 September 2009. http://www.webcitation.org/5jjoXzOhR.
- "THE INDIAN AIR CRASH: Tapes point blame at Kazakh pilot". The Independent. 14 November 1996. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- Job, Macarthur (November–December 2006), "Mid-Air Disasters", Flight Safety Australia: 42, archived from the original on 2009-09-12, retrieved 2009-09-10
- "YouTube.Com - Pure History Specials: Head On Air Crash". Alliant Content. 16 May 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- Bellamy, Christopher (13 November 1996). "Human error is blamed for crash". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013.
- "Civil aviation aircraft accident summary for the year 1996" (pdf). Directorate General of Civil Aviation of India. pp. 7–8. Archived from the original on 30 July 2013.
- Burns, John F. (14 November 1996). "Indian Officials Gather Evidence on Midair Collision". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013.
- Shapiro, Stacy; Marathe, Kaumudi (18 November 1996). "Indian law may restrain size of crash claims". Business Insurance.[dead link]
- Burns, John F. (13 November 1996). "Two Airliners Collide in Midair, Killing All 351 Aboard in India". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 July 2013.
- "Pilot error focus of India collision investigation". CNN (New Delhi). 14 November 1996. Archived from the original on 28 January 2000.
- "Communication gap caused Charkhi Dadri mishap". Rediff. 26 May 1997. Archived from the original on 7 October 1999. Retrieved 4 July 2006.
- "Charkhi Dadri collision occurred in "heavy clouds": US pilot". Rediff. Archived from the original on 11 October 1999. Retrieved 4 July 2006.
- "Haryana India 1996 Plane Crash, Head on Collision". National Geographic Channel. National Geographic Channel. Archived from the original on 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
- Ashraf, Syed Firhaus. "Charkhi Dadri collision report expected this weekend." Rediff. 11 March 1997.
|Pre-Crash photos of the two airliners at Airliners.net|
- Directorate General of Civil Aviation OPERATIONS CIRCULAR NO.3 OF 1999 (Archived 8 July 2013 at WebCite)
- Officials say hundreds feared killed in airline collision over India, CNN
- Pilot error focus of India collision investigation CNN
- Turbulence factor gains ground in Charkhi-Dadri crash probe The Indian Express[dead link]
- Indian and Kazak Officials Trade Accusations in Air Collision