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
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.