Air Canada Flight 621
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|Date||July 5, 1970|
|Summary||Explosion and crash caused by crew error|
|Site||Brampton, Ontario |
|Aircraft type||McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63|
|Flight origin||Montreal-Dorval Int'l Airport|
|Stopover||Toronto International Airport|
|Destination||Los Angeles Int'l Airport|
The Air Canada Flight 621 crash near Toronto Pearson International Airport, took place on July 5, 1970, when an Air Canada Douglas DC-8, registered as CF-TIW, was attempting to land. It was flying on a Montreal–Toronto–Los Angeles route.
Captain Peter Hamilton and First Officer Donald Rowland had flown on various flights together before, and had an ongoing discussion on when to arm the ground spoilers. They agreed that they did not like arming the spoilers at the beginning of the final approach, as specified in the checklist, fearing it could lead to an inadvertent spoiler deployment. The captain preferred not arming them at all, but directly deploying them once on the ground, while the co-pilot preferred arming them during the landing flare. Neither procedure was approved, as the spoilers should have been armed in the pre-landing check. The second officer, Gordon Hill, correctly called for the spoiler deployment as evidenced in the CVR transcript.
When executed just above the runway, the landing flare procedure arrests the aircraft's descent just prior to touchdown. By raising the aircraft's nose (pitching up), lift momentarily increases, reducing the descent rate, and the main wheels may then gently contact the runway. During the flare, pilots normally retard the throttles to idle to reduce engine thrust. A squat switch within the main landing gear and signals the touchdown and automatically deploys the spoilers, if armed. This destroys any remaining lift and helps the aircraft slow down.
The pilots made an agreement that, when the captain was piloting the aircraft, the first officer would deploy the spoilers on the ground as the captain preferred, and when the first officer was piloting the aircraft, the captain would arm them on the flare as the co-pilot preferred.
In this particular instance, the captain was piloting the landing and said, "All right. Give them to me on the flare. I have given up." This was not the pilots' usual routine. Sixty feet from the runway, the captain began to reduce power in preparation for the flare and said "Okay" to the first officer. The first officer immediately deployed the spoilers on the flare instead of just arming them. The aircraft began to sink heavily and the captain, realizing what had happened, pulled back on the control column and applied full thrust to all four engines. The nose lifted, but the aircraft still continued to sink, hitting the runway with enough force that the number four engine and pylon broke off the wing, and the tail struck the ground. Realizing what he had done, the first officer began apologizing to the captain. Apparently unaware of the severity of the damage inflicted on the aircraft, the crew managed to lift off for a go-around, but the lost fourth engine had torn off a piece of the lower wing plating and the aircraft was now trailing fuel, which ignited. The first officer requested a second landing attempt on the same runway but was told it was closed (because of the debris the DC-8 had left earlier) and was directed to another runway.
Two and a half minutes after the initial collision, the outboard section of the right wing above engine number four exploded, causing parts of the wing to break off. Six seconds after this explosion, another explosion occurred in the area of the number three engine, causing the pylon and engine to both break off and fall to the ground in flames. Six and a half seconds after the second explosion, a third explosion occurred, destroying most of the right wing, including the wing tip. The aircraft then went into a violent nose dive, striking the ground at a high velocity of about 220 knots (410 km/h; 250 mph) and killing all 100 passengers and the nine crew members on board.
Wreckage, body parts, bits of clothing and personal effects were strewn for more than 90 metres (100 yards) beyond the impact spot. The plane dug a furrow eight or ten feet deep, less than 60 metres (200 ft) from the home of the Burgsma family, in which 10 persons lived, with the crash explosion blowing in their windows.
The crash occurred in a farm field located near what is now Castlemore Road and McVean Drive in Brampton, Ontario. Memorial and witness accounts at the time reported the crash was in Woodbridge. This was because in 1970, prior to urban sprawl and changes in municipal boundaries, the site was closer to Woodbridge than Brampton.
A board of inquiry was established to investigate the crash. The board published its official report on January 29, 1971, in which the accident was attributed to pilot error. Eight recommendations were provided, including that the activating lever for the spoilers should be designed in such a way that it could not be activated while the DC-8 is in flight, that the manufacturer should reinforce the structural integrity of the DC-8's wings and fuel tank and that Air Canada training and operating manuals should clarify the operating procedures regarding spoiler arming and deployment.
Recovery and identification of bodies proceeded slowly after the crash because of the need to excavate the crash crater to a significant depth. More than 20 of the passengers were United States citizens, all of them listed as being from Southern California.
On July 30, 1970, 52 victims, 49 of whom were identified, were buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and in May 1971 an obelisk and stone monument were erected (Plot 24-1) at the site, with all 109 victims' names inscribed. In 1979, Air Canada added an additional memorial at the cemetery.
In June 2002, Castlemore resident Paul Cardin, who been inspired by a November 2001 Toronto Sun article revisiting the Flight 621 crash scene, made some disturbing discoveries at the site, including aircraft wreckage and possible human bone shards. The Peel Regional Police investigated the findings, and it was later determined that the bones were not of recent origin, and had indeed come from the crash. Continuing searches of the crash site by archaeologist Dana Poulton and Friends of Flight 621 (a Brampton-based advocacy group founded by Cardin) produced hundreds of additional human bone fragments.    
Memorial garden dedication in 2013
Since the crash, the surrounding area of the crash site itself has experienced significant residential urbanization. In January 2007, the landowners, in conjunction with the property developers, filed an application to designate a section of the crash site as a cemetery and memorial garden. On July 7, 2013, the memorial was officially opened at the site near Degrey Drive and Decorso Drive in present-day Brampton.
The small memorial park, approximately a third of a hectare in size (~3,000 m2), contains lilacs and 109 markers of polished white granite arranged in a random configuration within a bed of black granite paving stones. A polished black granite plaque listing all the victims' names is mounted on a large pink granite boulder. Diarmuid Horgan, coordinator of the memorial site, said that he hoped the dedication ceremony would help victims' families find closure.
- "Brampton Remembers Flight AC621". brampton.ca. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- "40th anniversary of Flight 621 crash". Brampton Guardian. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Aviation Safety Network Accident Description, CF-TIW, Aviation Safety Network Database, 2013.
- Ranter, Harro. "Aviation Safety Network > ASN Aviation Safety Database > Geographical regions > Canada air safety profile". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
- "What was on the CVR Tapes?". Friends of Flight 621. Archived from the original on May 28, 2008. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
- "Turbine Pilot: WOW what a landing". www.aopa.org. May 9, 2009. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
- CVR transcript Air Canada Flight 621 - 05 JUL 1970, Aviation Safety Network Database, 2013.
- Dedication of memorial at site of 43-year-old Air Canada plane crash, The Canadian Press, July 7, 2013. Retrieved from GlobeandMail.com July 7, 2013.
- Canada Board of Inquiry into the Accident at Toronto International Airport, Malton, Ontario, to Air Canada DC8-CF-TIW aircraft on July 5, 1970, AMICUS No. 21795471 Monograph, Libraries and Archives Canada website.
- "Air Canada Flight 621 Memorial". Mount Pleasant Group. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- Alexander, Julia. Brampton memorial garden dedicated to Air Canada victims, Toronto Sun, July 7, 2013. Retrieved from TorontoSun.com July 8, 2013.
- "Brampton Remembers Flight AC621". City of Brampton. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
- Brampton Memorial Dedicated to Air Canada Crash Victims, The Canadian Press, July 7, 2013.
- Families find closure as air crash memorial site unveiled after 43 years Archived October 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The Canadian Press, July 7, 2013. Retrieved from TimesColonist.com on July 8, 2013.
- "Horrific Air Canada crash gets permanent memorial site after 43 years". CTV News. Toronto: Canadian Press. July 4, 2013. Archived from the original on July 5, 2013. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- A chance to say goodbye: Memorial site of horrific Air Canada crash prompts reader memories, The Globe and Mail, July 5, 2013. Retrieved from GlobeandMail.com July 7, 2013.
- Fishman, Lynda (2010). Repairing Rainbows: A True Story of Family, Tragedy and Choices. Toronto: Self Published. ISBN 978-0-9866074-0-0.
A book from the point of view of one of the victims' surviving children.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Cockpit voice recorder transcript
- Official accident report (Internet Archive) - Webcitation archive
- Friends of Flight 621 via the Internet Archive (Archive version)
- Air Canada Flight 621 Memorial at Find a Grave
- Location of Flight 621 Memorial Garden