Since then, Daniel Roche, the French aviation enthusiast who has been researching this topic since many years and has conducted several expeditions on the crash site [collecting 5 tonne (?!?!) of plane parts], has sent me emails with pictures that, according to him, would prove his theory of a collision with an Italian fighter jet.
I’ve already written in my previous article what I think about the crash. Plane crash investigations require experts in various fields. They must be performed in accordance with specific procedures and protocols, that cover also how evidences must be collected and preserved. So, regardless what Daniel believes, I still think the official report of the French BEA says it all about the reasons of the crash of the Air India 101 flight.
Furthermore, I don’t like conspiracy theories very much.
However, the last pictures Daniel has sent to me are quite interesting because they show some aircraft parts he has found on the glacier. Text on the debris is English, suggesting an American fighter. I don’t know where he actually found them and I haven’t checked yet if another US or Italian plane has crashed in the same area but I’m curious to hear from any of this weblog’s readers who is able to identify the type of aircraft that parts and tank (?) belong to.
Thanks to Anand, a visitor of my site that manages the WordPress blog http://aviatingindia.wordpress.com/ (dealing with Indian Aviation), I’ve had the opportunity to read an interesting (conspiracy?) story about the Air India flight 101, that crashed in Mont Blanc in 1966. The article provides some interesting details, a theory, according to which, the B-707 was collided with (or was shot down by) a military aircraft belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). Here’s the article that Anand published on the Indian Aviation blog:
Mumbai: On January 24, 1966, Air India flight AI 101 Mumbai-Paris crashed on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps on the border of France and Italy. Amongst the 117 passengers killed was noted Nuclear Scientist Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha. Although the world believes the aircraft crashed, Daniel Roche, an aviation enthusiast who has spent five years researching and collecting the remnants of the plane from Mont Blanc, says the plane was hit by an Italian military aircraft or a missile. Roche, 57, a property consultant in Lyon, France, has collected about three tonne of parts of the two Air India (AI) aircraft that crashed into the glacier of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps (4,810 m or 15,781 feet). One was the propeller aircraft Malabar Princess, which crashed in 1950, and the other was the Boeing 707 Kanchenjunga. “While the parts of Malabar Princess were found around one spot, those of Kanchenjunga were found scattered around a 25 km range,” he says. Roche says that while the Malabar Princess is a clear case of a crash, the Kanchenjunga was hit by an Italian military aircraft or a missile. “If Kanchenjunga had crashed in the mountain, there should have been huge fire and explosion as there was 41,000 tonne of fuel in the aircraft, but that was not the case. Just two minutes before the crash, the aircraft was at 6,000 feet above the ground. According to me, it collided with an Italian aircraft and as there is very little oxygen at that height, there was no combustion that could cause an explosion,” he says. During his excavations in the Mont Blanc glacier, he found the black box of the aircraft, the pilot’s manual, a camera, jewellery, and other belongings of the passengers that had over the last 40 years sunk some 8 km into the glacier and descended down the mountainside. Talking about his suspicion of the Italian plane, he says, “There were news reports that time about an Italian aircraft that had gone missing the same day. There are chances that it collided into the aircraft.I managed to find a fuel tank of the Italian plane with inscriptions on it,” he says. “I do not know whether it was a conspiracy or what as Bhabha was going to give India its first nuclear bomb, which the nuclear powers of that time did not want,” he says. “..I feel that it is my duty to tell the truth to the world based on the evidence. If the Indian government wants, I am ready to hand over the documents and the belongings of the passengers to them…” he says.
As soon as I read the article I checked through files the news of any military aircraft crashed on the same day of the Air India flight AI 101. According to the information I’ve gathered, on Jan 24, 1966, the ItaF recorded only an aviation safety event: an F-104G suffered an emergency during take off from Grazzanise airbase (Central Italy, South of Rome, hundred miles to the South of the Air India crash location). The pilot ejected safely and the aircraft was heavily damaged. On Jan 25, 1996, the following day, an F-104G of the 9° Gruppo of the 4^ Aerobrigata crashed near Accumuli (Rieti) to the ENE of Rome. The pilot ejected safely but the aircraft was destroyed. So, the statement “There were news reports that time about an Italian aircraft that had gone missing the same day” is probably true, but it is not related to the Air India crash. It would be interesting to understand which kind of Italian inscriptions were found on a (possible) tank, where / how far it was found (it is possible the tank or part was lost in another event/time/occasion). I don’t think the aircraft was shot down for various reasons. First of all because evidences would be found, second because the investigation report did not mention any possibility the aircraft was destroyed by anything else than the impact with the mountain. Third, if the ItAF was interested in downing the aircraft, why don’t do that far from the boundaries with other two nations? It would have been far easier to shot it down above the Sea, in Souther Italy or above the Adriatic. I suggest reading the final report of the inquiry board that is available in French language with other information at the following address: http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19660124-0. I quickly read it and found that the inquiry board experts visited the crash location more than once and by analysing the wreckage and the remains of the aircraft stated that everything pointed to a crash caused by an impact with the ground (we would call it Controlled Flight Into the Terrain CFIT, today). For Aviation Safety Network: “The commission concluded that the most likely hypothesis was the following: 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.”
Anyway, another statement in the above article is worth analysing: “While the parts of Malabar Princess were found around one spot, those of Kanchenjunga were found scattered around a 25 km range”. The aviation enthusiast is referring to another Air India crash that occurred incidentally on the same place (Mont Blanc): on Nov. 3, 1950, the “Malabar Princess”, a Lockheed Constellation, operating on the Mumbai-London route crashed into the mountain while approaching Geneva, one of the intermidiate stop-over. The aircraft hit the Mont Blanc 30 meters from the top. By the way, there can be hundreds of reasons that can explain why the debris were scattered in one case and in the same spot in the other, the most obvious of which is the different cruising speeds.
Analysing the recent US1549 ditching in the Hudson River (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/awe1549/), I explained that the success in the difficult splash down was the result of a perfect maneuver and luck. Even if I still believe that luck is important to increase survivability in case of emergency, when talking about aviation safety, I believe that it sometimes doesn’t come alone and it is strictly tied to the crew’s airmanship. Capt. Sullenberger perfomed a difficult maneuver he had never attempted before. He was lucky, as the rest of the crew and the passengers were, but the “happy ending” could have been tragic and luck would most probably be enough if “Sully” had not made the right decisions and had not followed the correct procedure. Pilot’s experience, skill and cold blood, are paramount to increase the possibilities of achieving a succesfull crash landing. In order to emphasise this point I will remind you another crash landing, the one of the Tuninter 1153. On Aug 6, 2005, TUI 1153 flight, an ATR-72-200 with registration TS-LBB, enroute from Bari-Palese airport, Italy, to Djerba-Zarzis Airport in Djerba, Tunisia, ran out of fuel and ditched in the Tyrrenhian sea 26 chilometers to the North East of Palermo, Sicily. 16 POB (2 crew members and 14 passengers) died in the accident while 23 survived the crash. The root cause of the crash was an ATR-42 fuel gauge erroneously installed on the ATR-72. Both gauges have the same form factor but they are different as the Fuel Quantity is calculated by processing the signals coming from capacitance probes in the tanks with a specific algortithm that differs from aircraft to aircraft, depending on the shape and size of the tanks. When TUI 1153 departed from Bari, the FQI indicated 2.700 kilograms, while the actual amount of fuel was only 570 kgs. At 15.17′47″LT, 4 minutes before the first engine failed, the crew did not notice the low pressure indication. At 23.000 feet, at 15.21, the aircraft lost the first engine, to be followed by the second at 15.23. The pilot declared an emergency at 15.24 informing Rome Radar that they were diverting to Palermo Punta Raisi airport. The aircraft did not make to Palermo, glided for 14 minutes before ditching at around 15.40. Six Tuninter employee at the time of the disaster were found guilty by the court of Palermo. Among them, Captain and Fist Officer who survived the crash (the only 2 crew member to escape the aircraft of the 4 on board). Even if the problem was with the gauge, according to the investigation the pilot made a series of mistakes that for sure contributed to the crash and did not help to solve the emergency:
before experiencing the emergency: – he did not check that the installed FQI was correct (both him and the FO had requested a replacement the day before for a failure, replacement that was performed in Tunis) and working properly
in-flight: – he ignored the acoustic warning 4 minutes before the first engine quit – after losing the first and later both engines he started a steep descend instead of gliding smoothly – there was too much confusion in the cockpit and 10 minutes after the aircraft had lost both engines, the crew had not started the appropriate check list yet – ditching was not performed as foreseen: the aircraft has an angle of attack comprised between -0,1° and 0,8 even if AOA, according to the manual, had to be of 9°. The Vertical Speed is too high: 13 feet per second instead of the foreseen 5 fps. The approach to the surface of the water was performed with tail wind and not parallel to the waves. In particular, the uncorrect aircraft attitude was the root cause of the violent impact with the water and the subsequent quick deceleration and disintegration of the airframe.
Nobody can say if a ditching performed “as prescribed” would have changed the destiny of TUI 1153. For sure, despite the gauge mistakenly installed on the aircraft, the investigation focused to a large amount of cockpit crew’s errors, which, most probably, cost some human lives. In your opinion, did this ditching fail because of bad luck? In my opinion, it was not a matter of luck (only). Most probably the particular high-wing of the ATR72 (the same of the ATR42) did not help since the floating line was above the cabin (as the following picture of an Alitalia ATR42 shows)
but the captain had some luck (he was flying at high altitude, he could point the ATR72 towards some boats, he had plenty of time to perform the check list and appropriate procedures, he ditched in the warm water of the Tyrrhenian Sea in August) and he simply wasted it.
The following pictures were taken by the Italian Coast Guard a few minutes after the crash landing. According to the autopsies the majority of the dead passenger didn’t survive the crash, but some drowned).
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