While the accident history of the Convair 880 and 990 can be considered extensive, especially in relation to the number that entered service, several aspects need to be considered. In the 15-year period from 1960, the year the type entered service, to 1974, there were seven fatal accidents. Four included the CV-990A, the production total of which was only a third of the entire program. But the first incident did not occur until the original CV-880 had traveled the air for seven years, in a variety of countries and climatic conditions.
The number of fatalities per aircraft must also be taken into account – from a low of one to a high of 155. Three accidents occurred during the takeoff phase and two during the cruise phase, but these were due to deliberately placed explosives and not from the airframe or engine. shortcoming or design flaw. Many, by fate alone, occurred in clusters just days apart.
“The 880 achieved an excellent safety record in passenger service, but it suffered numerous training accidents and several accidents occurred after the aircraft were converted to freighter configurations,” said Jon Proctor’s perspective in Convair 880 and 990 (World Transport Press, 1996, p. 82). “At least 15 hull losses were recorded, including several that were recoverable but were written off for economic reasons.”
This chapter deals with actual passenger transport accidents.
The first of these occurred on November 5, 1967 when the aircraft VR-HFX, a Cathay Pacific CV-880M, embarked on a multi-sector flight from Kai Tak International Airport in Hong Kong to Calcutta with stops in Saigon and Bangkok. Piloted by Captain JRE Howell, an Australian, and maintained by ten other crew members, the jet, with 116 passengers on board, imitated its takeoff in good weather, but aborted the attempt when it experienced a strong vibration and veered to the right at 122 knots . Despite reverse thrust and toe-brake applications, there was not enough clearance left to stop.
It skidded off the runway and hurtled over a seawall, plunging into Hong Kong harbor and dropping its nose in the process. It finally came to rest 100 meters from the end of the runway and in shallow water. There was no fire or explosion.
The captain entered the cabin to assist in the evacuation. Although he met with confusion, there was little panic and the escape was orderly. Helicopters and boats converged on the submerged Convair.
Of the 127 souls on board, 20 required hospitalization, 13 sustained minor injuries, and one, a South Vietnamese woman, was killed when she could not be extricated from the cabin. Ironically, the others didn’t even keep their feet wet.
The vibration and the turn to the right were traced to the shedding of the starboard nosewheel tire, the culprit for the aborted takeoff.
Just 16 days after the Cathay Pacific incident, a much deadlier incident occurred – this time during the landing phase.
On November 21, 1967, TWA Flight 128, a “Star Stream 880” registered N821TW, took off from Los Angeles two and a half hours behind schedule, as problems with the originally intended aircraft’s door seal resulted in it being replaced by an aircraft from Boston. Tied itself to that same city, with stops in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, it broke free from California soil with seven crew and 72 passengers.
The flight itself was routine. The landing was not.
Thirty minutes before the estimated time of arrival of 9:06 p.m., it began its descent toward Cincinnati, which reported light snow, a ceiling of 1,000 feet, and visibility of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) through the automatic terminal information service (ATIS).
The streamlined jet with curved wings, its passenger windows the only light in the black soup it descended into, approached the north-south runway of Greater Cincinnati Airport. But construction to extend it from 7,200 to 9,000 feet rendered the glide slope, approach lights, and center marker inoperative.
Flight 128 approached from the northwest and passed over the Ohio River, which was lower than the airport itself because it was built on a hill on the opposite side of the waterway. Aligned with the runway, the plane would land in moments. But 250 meters below his slide, he would never reach the threshold.
Instead, it plowed into a BS Wagner owned apple orchard in Hebron, Kentucky, clipping trees with its wings until the progressive impacts reduced its momentum and ripped open its fuel tanks. At 20:58, two miles from the runway, the red glow of the blaze illuminated the swirling snow and marked the crash site.
Seventeen survivors were taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Covington, Kentucky, and three more were taken to Booth Hospital, all of whom were in serious condition. Subsequent deaths of some of them left only a dozen survivors of the 82 on board.
The accident, the first Convair 880 operated by a US airline, was the worst in Greater Cincinnati Airport history and the third in a series of similar accidents. The first two involved approaches by a cargo plane on November 14, 1961, and an American Airlines Boeing 727-100 four years later, on November 8.
As all had resulted in runway undershoot, an investigation was launched, but the FAA was unable to identify any errors in the approach procedure or shortcomings of the north-south runway, stating that the airport “adequately meets our standards”.
The common ground, at least in the two aircraft incidents, was inadequate or non-existent instrument surveillance during the critical final approach phase. In the US case, it was the crew’s failure to monitor the altimeters during a visual approach, while in the TWA, the first officer failed to issue any altitude or airspeed warnings, rendering the aircraft unable to clear approach obstacles and the resulting consequences. ground impact two miles from and 15 feet below the runway.
The third fatal accident – this time involving a Garuda Indonesia Airways CV-990A – took place six months later, on May 28, 1968. Aircraft PK-GJA, which departed Jakarta at 6 p.m. the previous evening, connected the Far East with Amsterdam in Europe on his multi-sector flight that took him intermittently to Singapore, Bangkok, Bombay, Karachi, Cairo and Rome. But shortly after takeoff from India, it plunged vertically toward the ground, reaching its unprecedented speed during its earthward dive and impacting 20 miles away. All 29 on board and one on the ground were killed. Although no definitive cause was found, sabotage was strongly suspected.
Visibility—or lack of it—was the cause of another CV-990A accident two years later, on January 5, 1970. An engine failure led to the return of the Spantax operated aircraft EC-BNM shortly after departing from Arlanda International in Stockholm. Airport on its charter flight to Las Palmas. Although it again took off without passengers with the intention of flying to Zurich with three engines for repairs, heavy fog proved to be the cause of the plunge into the ground and impact with the surrounding forest, killing five of the ten crew members.
As had happened with the Garuda CV-990A, bomb explosions brought down two more aircraft.
In the first, on February 21, 1970, aircraft HB-ICD, operated by Swissair as flight SR 330, took off with nine crew members and 38 passengers from Zurich International Airport, Kloten, to Israel. But shortly after takeoff, an explosion tore open the aft cargo hold.
As the smoke spread through the cabin, the captain made his distress call. The Convair 990A Coronado was immediately cleared to return and began circling, forced to make an ILS approach due to a low ceiling and limited visibility. But damage to the flight surfaces made it difficult to control, forcing the captain to use every method possible to keep the crippled craft aloft, all to no avail.
It claimed all 47 lives upon entering the village of Wuerenlingen in the Swiss canton of Aargau, 40 kilometers from Zurich.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which planted a bomb in a checked suitcase, later claimed responsibility for the explosion, which was aimed at a fleeing Israeli official.
The second consecutive explosion shutdown incident occurred two years later, on June 15, 1972. In this case, a Cathay Pacific CV-880M, registered VR-HFZ and operating as Flight 700Z, was flying between Bangkok and Hong Kong when a time bomb, brought on board in a piece of carry-on, exploded at flight level two-nine-zero, tore the airframe into three parts and torpedoed them on the ground, crashed 33 miles southeast of Pleiku, in the sparsely populated South Vietnamese Central Highlands, itself 200 miles northeast from Saigon, at 2:00 PM local time.
The wreckage due to the built-up momentum and the destructive impact on the ground was so polarized that no fire even broke out. U.S. Army helicopters were the first to reach the crash site. All ten crew members and 71 passengers were of course killed.
The reason for the sabotage was believed to be a long-standing one, which was to collect insurance money. It was also believed that the device exploded at a time when the plane would have been over the South China Sea, leaving no trace of the cause.
The worst accident involving the Convair 880 and 990 occurred six months later, on December 3, 1972, when an example of the 990A, EC-BZR registered and operated by Spantax, took off from Los Rodeos Airport in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the Canary Islands, bound for Munich with seven crew members and 148 passengers.
The plane, led by Captain Daniel Nunez, spun in blinding fog and climbed to 300 feet, whereupon it experienced an unrelenting engine failure. Gravity-drilled to Earth, it burrowed into the ground a thousand feet beyond the runway, taking all lives with it.
Although the first officer, who performed the takeoff, cited the cause as loss of control, it was discovered that it had been running at a VR speed 20 knots lower than recommended for the gross weight of the aircraft, rendering it unable to generate enough lift. to establish a positive rate of climb.
The last accident in this 15-year period was the result of a runway incursion. While taxiing to the Chicago gate at the end of the Tampa sector as Delta Flight 954, aircraft N8807E crossed the active runway and was clipped by a North Central DC-9-30, which turned prematurely to climb over it. While 15 injuries and a single fatality resulted from the DC-9’s fall back to the runway, only one of the CV-880’s passengers was injured during the ensuing evacuation. However, after the top of the fuselage was cut off and the tail clipped off, the Convair was damaged beyond repair.
Lewis, W. David and Newton, Wesley Phillips. Delta: the history of an airline. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1979.
Macclement, Fred. It doesn’t matter where you are. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1969.
Proctor, Jon. Convair 880 and 990. Miami: World Transport Press, Inc., 1996.