Varig Flight 820

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Varig Flight 820
Deployment of emergency services at the crash site.
Date11 July 1973
SummaryIn-flight fire, leading to loss of controls and belly landing
Sitenear Orly Airport, Orly, Paris, France 48°45′N 2°24′E / 48.750°N 2.400°E / 48.750; 2.400Coordinates: 48°45′N 2°24′E / 48.750°N 2.400°E / 48.750; 2.400
Aircraft typeBoeing 707-320C
Flight originGaleão International Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
StopoverOrly Airport, Paris, France
DestinationHeathrow Airport, London

Varig Flight 820 was a flight of the Brazilian airline Varig that departed from Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11, 1973, for Orly Airport, in Paris, France. The plane, a Boeing 707, registration PP-VJZ, made an emergency landing on onion fields about four kilometers from Orly Airport, due to smoke in the cabin from a fire in a lavatory. The fire caused 123 deaths; there were only 11 survivors (ten crew members and one passenger).

Aircraft and crew[edit]

The Boeing 707-320C registration PP-VJZ, serial number 19841, was manufactured in February 1968 and had flown 21,470 hours. The aircraft was originally meant to be sold to Seaboard World Airlines, but was bought by Varig prior to this taking place. Varig briefly leased it to Seaboard World Airlines but otherwise owned and operated the aircraft for the entirety of its life. The aircraft had seating capacity for 124 passengers and was operating close to full on the fateful flight.[citation needed]

The crew aboard the flight consisted of four flight crew, four relief flight crew, and nine cabin crew. The primary flight crew consisted of Captain Gilberto Araújo da Silva, 49, First Officer Alvio Basso, 46, Flight Engineer Claunor Bello, 38, and Navigator Zilmar Gomes da Cunha, 43. Captain Araújo da Silva was highly experienced and had flown 17,959 hours, of which 4,642 hours were on the 707. First Officer Basso was also very experienced, with 12,613 flying hours, of which 5,055 hours were on the 707. Both Bello and Gomes da Cunha were also highly experienced airmen with 9,655 hours and 14,140 hours in total respectively; between them they had 8,113 hours on the 707.[citation needed]

The relief flight crew consisted of Captain Antonio Fuzimoto, 45, First Officer Ronald Utermoehl, 23, Flight Engineer Carlos Nato Diefenthaler, 38 and Navigator Salvador Ramos Heleno, 45. Relief Captain Fuzimoto was also very experienced, with 17,788 flying hours total, of which 3,221 were on the 707. Relief First Officer Utermoehl was much less experienced, with only 1,540 hours in total, of which only 788 were on the 707. Relief Flight Engineer Diefenthaler and Relief Navigator Heleno were both very experienced airmen, with 16,672 and 15,157 flying hours, respectively, and 17,859 total hours between them on the 707.[citation needed]

The cabin crew consisted of Chief Purser João Egidio Galleti, 33, and attendants Edemar Gonçalves Mascarenas, 31, Carmelino Pires de Oliveira Jr, 31, Sergio Carvalho Balbino, 28, Luiz Edmundo Coelho Brandão, 26, Alain Henri Tersis, 26, Hanelore Danzberg, 34, Andrea Piha, 24 and Elvira Strauss, 24.[1]


Flight 820's problems began when a fire started in a rear lavatory. Crew members moved to the front of the airplane toward the emergency exit, as many passengers in the rear of the plane inhaled smoke. Prior to the forced landing, many of the passengers had already died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. The aircraft landed in a field 5 km short of the runway, in a full-flap and gear-down configuration.[citation needed]

Of the 134 passengers and crew aboard the flight, ten crew and one passenger, 21-year-old Ricardo Trajano, survived. Of the crew, Captain Araújo da Silva, First Officer Basso, Flight Engineer Bello, Navigator Gomes da Cunha, Relief Captain Fuzimoto, Chief Purser Galleti and Attendants Pires de Oliveira and Piha were in the cockpit and evacuated from there, and Tersis and Brandão escaped out of the forward galley. Trajano was found unconscious with Relief Navigator Heleno, Attendant Balbino and another passenger; Balbino and the passenger died at the scene, whereas Heleno died in a hospital soon after.[citation needed]

A possible cause of the fire was that the lavatory waste bin contents caught fire after a lit cigarette was thrown into it. Consequently, the FAA issued AD 74-08-09 requiring "installation of placards prohibiting smoking in the lavatory and disposal of cigarettes in the lavatory waste receptacles; establishment of a procedure to announce to airplane occupants that smoking is prohibited in the lavatories; installation of ashtrays at certain locations; and repetitive inspections to ensure that lavatory waste receptacle doors operate correctly".[2]


Most of the passengers on the aircraft were Brazilian. The only survivors were in the cockpit and the first several rows of seats. Of the 11 survivors, 10 were members of the crew;[3] the sole surviving passenger disobeyed instructions to remain in his seat.

Notable passengers who died included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Official report
  2. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 707-345C PP-VJZ Paris-Orly Airport (ORY)". Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Death in the Air: Fire and Fumes." Time. 23 July 1973. Retrieved on 8 December 2010.(subscription required)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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