Friday, 3 March 2023

Remembering Turkish Airlines 981


Similar to the United 811 story I posted back on the 24th of February, the crash of Turkish Airlines 981 occurred when an incorrectly secured cargo door at the rear of the plane burst open and broke off, causing an explosive decompression that severed critical cables necessary to control the aircraft. To maximize the working space within the cargo hold, the cargo doors opened outwards, making them vulnerable to being forced open at high altitudes under normal in-flight pressure. To prevent this, a special latching system was used that locked shut under pressure when properly closed. To ensure the latches were properly positioned, a handle on the outside of the door pressed small metal pins into the latches; if the latches were not in the proper location the pins would not align and the handle would not close.

On Sunday the 3rd of March 1974 flight TK981 departed Istanbul (IST/LTFM) for a flight to Paris-Orly Airport (ORY/LFPO), France to London-Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL), United Kingdom. The DC-10 landed at Paris-Orly at 11:02am and taxied to stand A2. There were 167 passengers on board, of whom 50 disembarked. The aircraft was refueled, and baggage was loaded onto the plane. The planned turnaround time of one hour was delayed by 30 minutes. An additional 216 passengers embarked. Most of the passengers were booked on this flight because of a strike at British Airways. The door of the aft cargo compartment on the left-hand side was closed at about 12:15 pm. When all preparations were complete the flight received permission to taxi to runway 08 at 12:24. Four minutes later the crew were cleared to line up for departure and were cleared for departure route 181 and an initial climb to flight level 40. The aircraft took off at approximately 12:30 and was cleared by Orly Departure to climb to 6000, which was reached at 12:34. The North Area Control Centre then cleared TK981 further to FL230. Three or four seconds before 12:40:00, the noise of decompression was heard, and the co-pilot said: "the fuselage has burst" and the pressurization aural warning sounded. This was caused by the opening and separation of the aft left-hand cargo door. The pressure difference in the cargo bay and passenger cabin, the floor above the cargo door partly collapsed. Two occupied tripe seat units were ejected from the aircraft. All the horizontal stabilizer and elevator control cables routed beneath the floor of the DC-10 and were thus also severely disrupted. Also, the no. 2 engine power was lost almost completely. The aircraft turned 9 deg to the left and pitched nose down. The nose-down attitude increased rapidly to -20 deg. Although the no. 1 and 3 engines were throttled back the speed increased to 360 kts. The pitch attitude then progressively increased to -4 degrees and the speed became steady at 430 kts (800 km/h). At a left bank of 17 degrees the DC-10 crashed into the forest of Ermenonville, 37 km NE of Paris killing the 11 crew and the 335 passenger - total of 346 SOB.

The crash is also known as the Ermenonville air disaster. At the time, Flight 981 was the deadliest plane crash in aviation history until 27th March 1977, when 583 people perished in the collision of two Boeing 747s in Tenerife. It remained the deadliest single-aircraft accident until the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123 on the 12th of August 1985, and the deadliest aviation accident without survivors until the Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision on the 12th of November 1996. It remains the deadliest single-aircraft accident without survivors, the first fatal and deadliest crash involving the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and the deadliest aviation accident to occur in France. It is also the deadliest aviation accident that does not involve a Boeing 747.

Aircraft Information
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Code: TK/TKY
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10
Registration: TC-JAV
Serial Number: 46704
Engines: 3 General Electric CF6-6D
First Flew: 15/02/1972.
Age: 2 Yrs 1 Mth

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