Air India Flight 101
An Air India Boeing 707 similar to the one involved
|Date||January 24, 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.
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.
CIA assassination theory
The journalist Gregory Douglas claims in his book Conversations with the Crow that the former CIA officer Robert T Crowley told him in conversations held between 1992 and 1996 that the US Government got the CIA to assassinate the Indian nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha by planting a bomb in the cargo hold of flight AI 101. The book claims that 13 days earlier, the CIA had also murdered the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent, one day after he signed the Ceasefire Agreement with Pakistan, called the Tashkent Pact. Douglas quotes Crowley as having said, “We had trouble, you know, with India back in the 60’s when they got uppity and started work on an atomic bomb. The thing is, they were getting into bed with the Russians." On Bhabha, he said, "that one was dangerous, believe me. He had an unfortunate accident. He was flying to Vienna to stir up more trouble, when his Boeing 707 had a bomb go off in the cargo hold. In October 1965, Bhabha had announced on All India Radio that they could build an atomic bomb within 18 months if given the go-ahead by the Government of India.
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 went back to use the AI101 flight designation, albeit on a different route.
Air India flights from Mumbai (then called Bombay) and Delhi to London Heathrow are now 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. The routes are flown with a mix of Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment.
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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)
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