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1966: 117 die in Air India tragedy

Up to 117 people have been killed after an Air India Boeing 707 crashed near the summit of Mont Blanc in the Alps.

The plane was on a regular Bombay to New York flight when the accident happened at around 0800 local time.

All 106 passengers and 11 crew were killed on the aircraft as it prepared to land at Geneva airport in Switzerland.

One of the victims included chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, who was on his way to Vienna.

The remaining passengers were Indian nationals, 46 of whom were sailors. Six were British.

Disaster scene

Rescue teams found wreckage scattered on the south-west side of the mountain, about 1,400ft (427 metres) below the summit.

Gerard Devoussoux, a mountain guide who was one of the first to arrive at the disaster scene, said: "Another 15 metres (50ft) and the plane would have missed the rock. It made a huge crater in the mountain.

"Everything was completely pulverised. Nothing was identifiable except for a few letters and packets."

French authorities radioed back the news that there was virtually no hope of survivors shortly after landing in the area.

The search was eventually called off after bad weather and poor visibility hampered rescue efforts.

Relatives of the passengers involved in the disaster were in tears after airport officials broke the news of the crash.

Robert Bruce, from Tooting, who was waiting for his parents to arrive, said: "I am so choked I cannot even cry. I will just go home and collapse.

"As far as I am concerned my world has come to an end."

The cause of the crash is not yet known and it is expected to take several days before all of the bodies are recovered.

The plane was a few minutes behind schedule as it was preparing to make its descent.

But the captain of the Air India Boeing 707, who was one of the airline's most experienced pilots, had radioed the control tower a few minutes earlier to report that his instruments were working fine and the aircraft was flying at 19,000ft (5,791 metres) - at least 3,000ft (514 metres) higher than the Mont Blanc summit.

Shortly after, the plane crashed into the mountain.

Sixteen years ago an Air India Constellation flying from Cairo to Geneva crashed near the same spot, killing 48 passengers and crew .

In Context
It is believed the most probable cause of the crash was that the pilot miscalculated his position as he was flying over Mont Blanc.

The radar controller picked up on the pilot's error and radioed back to ensure that he had corrected his position.

Unfortunately the correction was misunderstood by the captain who continued his descent after mistakenly thinking that he had passed the ridge leading to the summit.


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