Icelandic Airliner Crashes Into A Sri Lankan Plantation - 11/15/1978

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On this day in 1978, a plane transporting Muslim pilgrims, who had gone on hajj to Mecca and were returning to Indonesia, crash-landed in Sri Lanka. The incident claimed the life of 183 pilgrims. 

Garuda Indonesian Airways hired an Icelandic Airline DC-8 to carry Muslim pilgrims back to Indonesia from their holy trip to Mecca. The flight was planned to takeoff from Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia with a stopover in Sri Lanka before making its final stop at Surabaya Airport in Indonesia. Everything went on smoothly at the beginning of the flight until the plane neared the Colombo Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka. As the plane was about to make its approach toward the airport around 10:15 pm, it began to descend so fast that it crash-landed into a coconut and rubber plantation miles off the runaway.

Investigators recovered voice and data recorders from the crash that shows the pilots had made several small, crucial errors during the course of the flight. The pilots paid little attention to the control tower as they made their approach and did not lower their altitude on the descent. If the pilots had paid attention to the warning signals the plane may not be affected. Unfortunately, the plane descended too quickly and as it approached the runaway. Normally, the altimeter should have sounded a warning as the plane was descending too fast, but the instrument failed to give the sign because it was mistakenly set to give the safety alert at 150 feet instead of the required 250 feet. Hence, it was too late to abort landing when the pilots realized that the landing was too fast.

The plane crashed into several coconut trees some miles off the runway before eventually crashing into a rubber tree plantation. Although the plane did not explode with the crash a fire erupted quickly. Immediately, firefighters were dispatched to the site, but could not get near the crash site in time because there was no way to break through the thick plantation. Unfortunately, 175 pilgrims and eight crew members lost their lives to the crash, while another 32 sustained serious injuries. Fortunately, 47 of the passengers were unharmed as they were able to make it through the main cabin before the plane set ablaze.

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Meg Wong

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