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On July 11, 1991, a Nationair aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff, while trying to make an emergency landing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. All aboard were killed. Nationair immediately denied any responsibility, and the President blamed "debris on the runway". Ultimately, Nationair was found to be responsible for the crash, having falsified records, and flying an unairworthy aircraft.

Unfortunately, as the crash occurred in Saudi Arabia, most Canadians don't really know much about this, the worst crash to-date involving a Canadian registered aircraft, and currently (summer '99) the 13th worst air disaster worldwide.

On February 15, 1992, the Montreal Gazette published a story about the Nationair crash. Below is the text of that report. By Andrew McIntosh and Rod MacDonell/Gazette

Comments are in red.

It was early in what pilots call the "takeoff roll" when first officer Kent Davidge signalled to his captain that he had a possible blown tire.

As the Nationair DC-8 picked up speed, a second tire blew. Huge chunks of hot rubber flew across the pavement. The thud of a smashed wheel could be felt in the cockpit.

But Captain William Allan said nothing, and eventually the plane, it's wheels on fire, lifted off the runway in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, and soared over the desert.

Minutes later it crashed, killing all 247 Muslims flying home to Nigeria and 14 Canadian crew members, four of them Quebecers.

What happened? A chronology of the days leading up to the crash is here.

The tires that blew were the same ones that Nationair mechanic Jean-Paul Philippe, 38, who died in the crash, wanted to change the day before in Accra, Ghana.

But Philippe couldn't find a key to the storage depot where the spares were stored. And when he finally did locate it, it was too late. The 23-year-old DC-8-61 jet was way behind schedule, and had to leave to pick up Muslim pilgrims in Jeddah. Philippe told colleagues he would change the tires later.

Since the July 11 disaster, issues such as the missing key have sent crash investigators chasing across Africa to find the cause of the worst disaster involving a Canadian airline.

Investigators are looking closely at two main elements, said Omar Barayan, vice-president of Saudi Arabia's aviation agency.

The first is what caused the initial tire failure. The second is the "human factor" - the performance of the mechanics and the pilots.

Barayan said visual examination of large tire fragments found on the runway so far do not suggest failure "due to fatigue or due to the thickness of the tire." He suggested the tire could have blown because of a combination of elements.

"If you have a good tire, and you run it under low pressure, it may sustain that. If you start with a half-worn or three-quarter-worn tire and you mistreat it, then you're asking for trouble," he said.