Jan 1, 1978: Air India Jet Crashes Just After Takeoff

Air India 747

Air India 747

An Air India Boeing 747 jet crashes into the sea just after takeoff from a Bombay airport on this day in 1978, killing all 213 people on board. The crash was apparently the result of pilot error and equipment malfunction.

Air India Flight 855 left Santacruz Airport (now called Chatrapati Airport) in Bombay, India (modern-day Mumbai), in the early evening of January 1. The jet being used for the flight was the first 747 acquired by Air India in 1971. It was dubbed the “Emperor Ashoka” and advertised as “Your palace in the sky.” Headed for Dubai, the jet took off down runway 27, which ends less than a mile away from Arabian Sea. It carried 23 crew members and 190 passengers.

As the 747 ascended, the pilot, Captain M.L. Kukar, banked the jet to the right toward Dubai. The plane then apparently returned to level flying but the Attitude Direction Indicator (ADI) in front of the pilot indicated that the plane was still banking to the right. Kukar and his co-pilot discussed the situation and tried to determine whether their instruments had “toppled,” or malfunctioned. Since it was dark, they had no way of visually verifying what the ADI was showing. Though he could have checked another monitor available on the control panel, Captain Kukar relied on the ADI and continued to bank the plane to the left, believing that he was leveling off the plane.

Instead, the 747 was sent spiraling straight into the water, two miles from shore, only four minutes after taking off. There were no survivors. Family members of the victims later sued the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, for negligence, but the case was dismissed in 1986.

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