Aviogenex Flight 130
An Aviogenex Tu-134, similar to that involved in the accident.
|Date||23 May 1971|
|Summary||Suffered hard landing due to pilot error, optical illusion|
|Site||Rijeka Airport |
|Aircraft type||Tupolev Tu-134A|
|Flight origin||Gatwick Airport, London, United Kingdom|
|Destination||Rijeka Airport, Rijeka, Croatia|
Aviogenex Flight 130 was an international charter passenger flight from Gatwick Airport, London, to Rijeka Airport, Croatia (then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). On 23 May 1971, the Tupolev Tu-134A servicing the flight suffered structural failure during landing. The aircraft flipped over and caught fire, killing 78 people. The crash became the first accident of the Tupolev Tu-134 since entering service.
British authorities assisted in the investigation, and found that the crew might have suffered an optical illusion due to heavy rains, from which they thought the runway was closer than it was. This may have caused a premature descent.
The accident aircraft had serial number 1351205. It had accumulated a total of only 111 airframe hours at the time of the crash. The plane was imported to Yugoslavia on 23 April 1971, and an airworthiness certificate was issued on 27 April.
Passengers and Crew
There were 76 passengers and 7 crew members on board Flight 130. The flight was transporting British tourists traveling on holiday to Rijeka, the third-largest city in Croatia. Seventy-two passengers were British tourists, while the others were Yugoslav. Among the passengers was Croatian poet Josip Pupačić, travelling with his wife and daughter; all 3 perished in the crash. 
The captain of the flight was 41-year-old Miloš Markićević. He held an IFR rating, and had 9,230 flight hours, 138 of which were on the Tupolev Tu-134A. The co-pilot was 34-year-old Stevan Mandić. He had 2,300 flight hours, with 899 hours in type. A trainee, Viktor Tomić, had 99 flight hours. He was supervised by 39-year-old flight engineer Ivan Čavajda, who had accumulated 7,500 flight hours, of which 1,373 were on the Tu-134. The cabin crew consisted of flight attendants Alma Svoboda, Mira Miše and Mirjana Janković.
The aircraft took off from Gatwick at 16:33 GMT. The flight proceeded normally until approach to Rijeka Airport. The crew followed the ILS with a slightly increased speed. Four kilometers from the runway threshold, at an altitude of about 300 metres (980 ft), the aircraft entered torrential rain. The crew immediately activated the windshield wipers. Fifty seconds before touchdown, the aircraft lifted upwards and rolled to the right.
Due to the challenging conditions, the crew could not return to the ILS approach, but managed to align the aircraft with the runway. However, the aircraft remained above its proper glide path while the crew tried to reduce speed with the elevators and by reducing thrust. At 800 m from the runway, power was reduced to idle, and the elevators were deployed. The aircraft then entered a gradually steepening angle of descent. Due to a likely optical illusion, the crew thought they were closer to the runway and at a higher altitude than they actually were. The aircraft hit the ground at 140 knots (260 km/h). The right wing detached, and the aircraft then flipped over and burst into flames.
All passengers and crew survived the initial impact. A fire then started in the left wing and tail. Thick smoke immediately entered the cabin. Panicked passengers then attempted to evacuate from the burning wreckage. They had difficulties due to lack of visibility; the electrical supply cut off immediately after impact, and thick smoke and darkness worsened matters.
One group of passengers was ordered to see if any could be evacuated through the rear portion of the plane, while another was ordered to check the front of the cabin. Both groups realized the doors in the rear and front could not be opened due to the severity of the impact. As the fire intensified, passengers tried to break the windows of the cabin with an axe. This worsened the situation, as air was allowed to enter the cabin, intensifying the fire. The cabin crew could only move the passengers to the front of the fuselage.
The four pilots evacuated through the right window of the cockpit. The flight engineer of the flight, Čavajda, had first attempted to help the passengers and cabin crew evacuate, but was unable to, as the cockpit door would not open.
Rescue services arrived minutes after the crash. Their attempts to extinguish the flames were hindered by the rainy conditions, which washed away the fire-smothering foam. Strong winds worsened the situation. The wind was also blowing in a direction from the tail to the nose, further slowing the rescue operation.
The cabin crew and passengers managed to partially open the forward service door, but by that time the smoke was too thick, and most of the passengers and cabin crews had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. One passenger (the only one to survive), Ranko Sarajčić, managed to evacuate through an opening in the rear portion of the plane. Sarajčić had told others to follow him. However, due to panic, none did. Twelve minutes after the crash, the cabin fire contacted the oxygen supply, causing a massive explosion in the front of the aircraft. Any passengers still alive were killed from the resulting conflagration.
The accident was investigated by the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch. A report was released on 1 December 1973. It found that, as Flight 130 flew through the rain, refraction of light on the cockpit windshield caused an illusion that made the runway seem closer than it actually was. This could have caused the crew to think that the runway was 200 ft (60 meters) lower than it actually was. The illusion caused the crew to apply a nose down input and reduce power to flight idle when the aircraft was 800 meters from the runway. The nose down input caused the aircraft to reach an airspeed of 310 km/h. As the plane contacted the ground at 260 km/h, it broke up and burst into flames.
The AAIB issued a recommendation that pilots study illusions that could be encountered during landing in heavy rain.
- Tatarstan Airlines Flight 363, plane crash in Russia which was caused by tunnel vision
- Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771, plane crash in Libya which was caused by somatogravic illusion
- Gulf Air Flight 072, plane crash in Bahrain which was caused by somatogravic illusion
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- "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "Aviogenex Aircraft TU-134 A, YU-AHZ. Report on the Catastrophy which occurred at 'RIJEKA' Airport, Yugoslavia, on 23 May 1971" (PDF). Air Accidents Investigation Branch. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "72 Die In Yugoslav Air Crash". Daily News. 24 May 1971. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "Odlazak prema nepoznatoj zvijezdi - ZG-magazin". 24 February 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- "KAKO SE DOGODILA DRUGA NAJGORA AVIONSKA NESREĆA U HRVATSKOJ Zrakoplov Aviogenexa na letu iz Londona kod Rijeke je uletio u oluju. Poginulo je 78 ljudi". Jutarnji list (in Croatian). 11 March 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2018.