Air India Flight 101
An Air India Boeing 707 similar to the one involved
|Date||24 January 1966|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain|
|Site||Mont Blanc massif, France|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 707–437|
|Flight origin||Sahar International Airport, Bombay, India|
|1st stopover||Delhi International Airport, New Delhi, India|
|2nd stopover||Beirut International Airport, Beirut, Lebanon|
|Last stopover||Geneva International Airport, Geneva, Switzerland|
|Destination||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom|
Air India Flight 101 was a scheduled Air India passenger flight from Bombay to London that accidentally flew into Mont Blanc in France on the morning of 24 January 1966. The accident was caused by a misunderstood verbal instruction from the radar controller to the pilot in lieu of VOR data, one of the receivers being out of service. The crash was almost at the exact spot where Air India Flight 245, a Lockheed 749 Constellation on a charter flight, had crashed in 1950 with the loss of all 48 on board that aircraft.
Air India Flight 101 was a scheduled flight from Bombay to London; and on the day of the accident was operated as a Boeing 707, registration VT-DMN and named Kanchenjunga. After leaving Bombay, it had made two scheduled stops, at Delhi and Beirut, and was en route to another stop at Geneva. At Flight Level 190, the crew was instructed to descend for Geneva International Airport after the aircraft had passed Mont Blanc. The pilot, thinking that he had passed Mont Blanc, started to descend and flew into the Mont Blanc massif in France near the Rocher de la Tournette, at an elevation of 4,750 metres (15,584 ft). All 106 passengers and 11 crew were killed.
Among the 106 passengers who were killed was Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission There have been claims that the CIA was involved with the plane crash in an attempt to slow down India's development of a nuclear bomb.
At the time, aircrew fixed the position of their aircraft as being above Mont Blanc by taking a cross-bearing from one VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) as they flew along a track from another VOR. However, the accident aircraft departed Beirut with one of its VOR receivers unserviceable.
The investigation concluded:
a) The pilot-in-command, who knew on leaving Beirut that one of the VORs was unserviceable, miscalculated his position in relation to Mont Blanc and reported his own estimate of this position to the controller; the radar controller noted the error, determined the position of the aircraft correctly and passed a communication to the aircraft which, he believed, would enable it to correct its position.
b) For want of a sufficiently precise phraseology, the correction was mis-understood by the pilot who, under the mistaken impression that he had passed the ridge leading to the summit and was still at a flight level which afforded sufficient safety clearance over the top of Mont Blanc, continued his descent.
Wreckage of the crashed Boeing still remains at the crash site. In 2008, a climber found some Indian newspapers dated 23 January 1966. An engine from Air India Flight 245, which had crashed at virtually the same spot in 1950, was also discovered.
On 21 August 2012, a 9 kilograms (20 lb) jute bag of diplomatic mail, stamped "On Indian Government Service, Diplomatic Mail, Ministry of External Affairs", was recovered by a mountain rescue worker and turned over to local police in Chamonix. An official with the Indian Embassy in Paris took custody of the mailbag, which was found to be a "Type C" diplomatic pouch meant for newspapers, periodicals, and personal letters. Indian diplomatic pouches "Type A" (classified information) and "Type B" (official communications) are still in use today; "Type C" mailbags were made obsolete with the advent of the internet. The mailbag was found to contain, among other items, still-white and legible copies of The Hindu and The Statesman from mid-January 1966, Air India calendars, and a personal letter to the Indian consul-general in New York, C.G.K. Menon. The bag was flown back to New Delhi on a regular Air India flight, in the charge of C.R. Barooah, the flight purser. His father, R.C. Barooah, was the flight engineer on Air India Flight 101.
In September 2013 a French alpinist found a metal box containing the Air India logo at the site of the plane crash on Mont Blanc containing rubies, sapphires, and emeralds worth more than $300,000, which he handed in to the police to be returned to the rightful owners. In her book Crash au mont Blanc, which tells the story of the two Air India crashes on Mont-Blanc (1950 and 1966), Françoise Rey writes about a box of emeralds sent to M. Issacharov, London, described by Lloyd's.
On 22 June 2014 a camera belonging to one of the passengers was found in the Glacier des Bossons by another French alpinist. The film though present was too damaged to hope to retrieve pictures.
On 28 July 2017 human body parts, specifically the upper thigh of a woman and a hand were discovered beside an aircraft engine belonging to a Boeing 707 aircraft by Daniel Roche, who has spent years combing the Bossons Glacier on Mont Blanc for aircraft remains.
While it is a custom to retire flight numbers after a fatal crash, Air India continues to use the AI101 flight designation, albeit on a different route and not for more than 40 years after this crash. Air India flights from Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Delhi to London Heathrow now are separate non-stop flights, numbered 131 on the former outbound and 111 and 161 on the latter outbounds (none of the intermediate stops are serviced by Air India anymore), flown with a mix of Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment. Flight 101 would not be used again until 2008, when Air India introduced nonstop service to New York-JFK from Delhi, using the Boeing 777-300ER.
- "The Air-India Disaster". Flight International: 174. 3 February 1966.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Mendis, Sean (26 July 2004). "Air India : The story of the aircraft". Airwhiners.net. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
- Pither 1998, p. 291
- "Diplomatic post bag from 1966 Indian plane crash found on Mont Blanc". Telegraph. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- "Indian diplomatic bag found after 46 years". 18 September 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- "'Diplomatic bag' reaches New Delhi". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- "AI purser brings back diplomatic bag lost in crash that killed father - Indian Express". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- Climber finds treasure trove off Mont Blanc. (n.d.). Yahoo News Malaysia. Retrieved 26 September 2013, from Yahoo News
- CRASH AU MONT-BLANC, Les fantômes du Malabar Princess et du Kangchenjunga, Françoise Rey – Edition Le Petit Montagnard
- "Frozen human remains found near aircraft on Mont Blanc". Mail Online. Retrieved 2017-07-29.
- Pither, Tony (1998). The Boeing 707 720 and C-135. England: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 0-85130-236-X.
Crash au Mont-Blanc, les fantômes du Malabar Princess et du Kangchenjunga. Françoise Rey. Glénant 1991, Le Petit Montagnard, 2013. France
- Final Report (Archive) – Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (in French)
- Cockburn, Barbara. "Air India 707 crash wreckage on Mont Blanc." Flight International. 24 January 2009.