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Air Canada 621

By Patrick Mondout

On July 5, 1970 an Air Canada DC-8 crashed after aborting a landing at Toronto International Airport killing all 100 passengers and 9 crew members. To this point in time, it was the second worst aviation accident in Canadian history.

Investigators later determined the rear spoilers (used to slow the craft after landing) had been deployed prematurely causing the plane to drop hard to the runway where it lost an engine and ruptured a fuel line. The DC-8 bounced and was still airborne. The captain attempted to gain altitude for another landing attempt but the plane exploded and fell to the ground.

Background

Captain Peter Hamilton had been with Air Canada since 1946 and had nearly 3000 hours on the DC-8 aircraft. First Officer Donald Rowland had over 7000 hours on Air Canada flights including over 5500 on DC-8s and had just returned from a vacation with his wife in the U.K. Second Officer H. Gordon Hill had flown 1045 hours for Air Canada - all on DC-8s.

Spoilers are curved surfaces on the backs of the wings which are raised and lowered in order to slow down the aircraft. Clear instructions were given to Air Canada crews about when to arm the spoilers. They were to be armed during the final approach and not deployed until after landing, but some - perhaps many - ignored this (concerned about a premature deployment) and the other crewmembers were reluctant to file reports about these violations.

Air Canada DC-8-63

An Air Canada DC-8-63 similar to the one destroyed near Toronto. Seen here at Marana in Arizona in February 1984.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at Airliners.net


Both the first officer and the captain agreed to violate these rules and yet disagreed about when to do it. The captain preferred to arm it and deploy it all at once after landing while the first officer, who would be actually handing the lever on this flight, preferred to arm them over the runway and deploy them after landing.

The captain agreed during the flight that they would follow the first officer's preferred method and even joked about it shortly before landing as revealed in the cockpit voice recording (CVR):

First Officer: Check three green, four pressures, spoilers on the flare?
Captain: Ok. Breaks three green, four pressures, spoilers (on the flare).
First Officer: (No or Or) on the ground?
Captain: All right. Give them to me on the flare.
Captain
: I have given up.
First Officer: (laughing)
Captain: I am tired of fighting it.
First Officer: (laughing)

This is the opposite of how they had done it in the past. While sixty feet over the runway on landing, the first officer not only armed the spoilers, he deployed them as well. This should never be done in flight.* The CVR revealed the first officer realized his mistake immediately, but it was too late:

Captain: Ok. (First officer takes this is as his signal to arm the spoilers but instead - perhaps because he usually does it all at once with this captain - both arms and deploys them.)
[Apparent power reduction.]
First Officer: Sorry! Oh! Sorry Pete!
[Apparent power increase as captain applies full power]
[Sound of impact with runway]
First Officer: Sorry Pete!

At this point, the Air Canada DC-8 has just left an engine on the runway and is leaking fuel which has ignited. The crew attempts to get airborne again in order to make another attempt at landing. They are unaware of the lost engine and fire nor are they aware that their only chance was to land the aircraft immediately after hitting even though they may not have had enough runway to stop in time.

The aircraft makes it to 3000 feet and seven miles from the airport before they lose a wing and crash, killing all on board.

* It was later recommended that future aircraft prevent this.
Source
: Canadian Board of Inquiry report.

Air Canada 621 at a Glance
AirlineAir Canada
DateJuly 5, 1970, 8:09am
Flight number621
Registration NumberCF-TIW
Crew Fatalities9 of 9
Passenger Fatalities100 of 100
Total Fatalities109 of 109

Air Safety References:
Bartelski, Jan. Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Airlife Publishing: England, 2001.
Beaty, David. The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents. Airlife Publishing: England, 1996.
Cushing, Steven. Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.
Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
Gero, David. Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950. Sutton, 2003.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 1). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1995.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 2). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1996.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 3). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1999.
Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
Owen, David. Air Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition. Motorbooks International, 2002.
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about this crash? Were you a witness? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was on duty as a part time worker (15 years old at the time) just getting off a midnight shift at the Heritage Inn at the corner of Rexdale Blvd and HWY 27 on July 5, 1970.

I believe it was just shortly past 07:00 when I glanced in the sky and saw a Air Canada DC-8 flying due North East just billowing smoke and flames from the Starboard wing. I watched in horror as the plane lumbered through the early morning sky. It slowly dawned on me what was happening and I ran to the night auditor and asked him to get the keys to the Hotel station wagon. We proceeded to follow the smoke trail as the plane had vanished leaving only the trail to follow.

Having been brought up in the area, I knew the roads fairly well and we went up the 27 hwy and doglegged over to Islington ave. I believe we went back west to one on the then concession roads (all changed now) and located what could only be described as the worst nightmare one could ever see. Burning wreckage strewn for hundreds of feet and the largest part no more a 20 ft splintered section. There were still flames and choking smoke when we arrived and several emergency vehicles from Woodbridge but not more than a dozen rescuers in sight. We asked if we could help and were quickly asked to assist and it becomes sharper in my minds eye that the only thing we were assisting with is picking up body parts and putting flagged stakes into the ground when located.

There were half burned tires still smoldering and portions of metal that could not be described as an airplane. One piece of fuselage had slid to within a few dozen meters of a farm of some sort. Oddly enough my sister's then boyfriend's farm was two properties over. The adrenaline was so significant that it kept me through the next 72 hours non-stop.

After a bit it was numbing and you did not realize you were picking body parts up or categorizing personal belongings of humans. If memory serves me correct there were 109 souls aboard however one may have disembarked in Montreal. I believe the flight was # 862 (forgot the fin #) and it was enroute to LAX via YYZ after leaving YUL.

The aftermath indicated that the spoilers could be deployed either automatically or manually and the Captain (Pete Hamilton) and his co-pilot (forgot his name) selected the lever the wrong way 80 feet above the runway. The plane fell to the runway and lost not only the outboard # 4 engine but a 14 ft section of the wing resulting in the fuel rupture. Pete attempted a go around not knowing he was missing these critical items.

All these facts came more into the clear sight as in 1974 I joined Air Canada and worked for them for 20 years ending up as the Operations Manager in Cargo. Many of the Dc8's were converted to cargo configuration and I had the opportunity to speak with the Captains. A FAA retrofit placard was installed above the spoiler lever indicating, "do not deploy spoilers in mid air" and several pilots stated they may as well have said "do not crash this airplane."

I also believe that another DC8 (might be Finnair) suffered the same fate within the same year and this prompted the placard. It was a significant reality check in the eyes of a 15 year old boy at the time.

I still have nightmares and try to block it out but seeing remains (or pieces) of humans in what could be described as a war zone certainly moved me. I think the only thing that kept me going was the need to help and that people needed help (at least the relatives did). It probably motivated me to move into the airline world and lord knows I flew in excess of 1.5 million miles both business and pleasure with only a few troubled moments.

I would like to think that Woodbridge memorial arena will be remembered as this was the charnal hall for those souls. To those who lost loved ones, I say my profound condolences and to those who assisted the recovery (for there was no rescue) I go at least...comrade in arms."

--Robert (Brett) Gilmore

"My father was an f/o for air Canada at the time. He had fond memories of flying with Capt. peter Hamilton to the U.K. and Germany. We were on holidays at Sauble Beach, Ontario, on July 5th. My dad found out about the accident in the newspaper. I was only 9 at the time but remember there was a weird feeling going around. This accident stuck with me, so later I asked my father about Capt. Hamilton. I found out that the Capt. was shot down while flying ops in ww2 and was a P.O.W. It has always bugged me that a pilot could survive his bomber being shot down in the dead of night by enemy fire and yet be killed on a calm summer morning because of a simple procedure error. It still bugs me. I would love to have met the man."

--Bill

"I remember this day vividly. I had just moved to Toronto on July 2nd 1970 and was living near Woodbridge, Ontario.

I was walking towards my car when I heard the high pitch sqeal of a jet, It was coming from behind me about 3/4 of a mile away. I looked to see what it was and saw the red and white colours of the big jet lumbering downwards. The engines kept revving up. I didn't see it crash as it had gone behind a stand of tall trees, however it made a big "thump" sound when it impacted. I went and got my brother and we drove as close as we could to the field where it crashed...but by then there were fires and the volunteer firemen were just arriving. We knew that no one could have survived the crash and stayed a respectful distance away. We gave statements to the policemen and later to Transport Canada. Dreadful sight I will never forget."

--Spen

"The captain's name was Peter Hamilton. My father flew with this man on dc-8's as s/o and f/o . Peter Hamilton was on opps during ww2 (RCAF). By all accounts Hamilton was a pro in anybody’s book. It has always bugged me that a great pilot and crew can make a mistake that within 30 seconds can destroy an aircraft, crew and passengers. My dad told me that on final, with this series dc-8, you could deploy spoilers on auto as main gear started to rotate on contact with runway, or deploy the spoilers by hand (after touchdown) for a smoother landing. The horrible thing about this accident is that the f/o was trying to comply with the captains request but pulled the handle back, but then up. Pulling the handle up means full deployment of the spoilers and rapid loss of lift. Think about it. One second’s loss of concentration… Anyway, if it happened to this type crew, it can happen to the best."

--Carly Greenlee

"I was 10 years old when I had just returned from a month long trip to Europe. My father was a chief mechanic with Air Canada, and as a family of four,we were returning to our home town of Toronto. My father had to go back to work to Toronto after the beginning of July 02, 1970 (then known as Malton airport ) and then "the day" occured. I remember I was in church with my sibling and with my mother, and my father had to work the early morning shift. And then it happened. Beyond my fatigue from the time change of Europe, and my haze of the shock of this accident... it hit me when my father came home and told us as he and his ground crew members were standing and watching it all happen from the tarmac.

it was surreal, much as it is surreal as I recount it all now. Far too painful and tearful to describe. It is much to bear and to graphical to describe as someone whose father has gone through death and trauma of the Second World War, as a flyer in the Air Force of Britain. As I read of this horrible accident, it is vidid, because I remember the emotions painfully and so realistically playing visions in front of me. I wish for peace and closure for all the dear victims and their beloved families. And for all the people that were involved in the after math of all of this. Peace and rest fo all."

--Lili in Ottawa

"This accident happend long before I was around, interesting to note that homes are now being built on this site. Very few people remember this accident, let alone where it occured. "

--Anonymous

"I was caddying at the Bayview Golf & Country Club at Steeles and Leslie. We were walking down the first hole (eastward) when I looked ahead and saw something odd in the sky. It looked like a giant flame.

We were so far away (about 10 miles) that the aircraft itself was not visible. All we could see was a large flame, trailing dark thick black smoke, going across the sky, a few degrees above the horizon, going north. It separated in two and the smaller flame fell to the ground. After a little longer, the larger flame also fell to the ground. A plume of black smoke was visible for several minutes after that.

One of the men we were caddying for said 'That's the direction of Malton airport. This can't be good. "

We were pretty somber for the first nine, but didn't find out until we got back to the clubhouse after the first nine holes that indeed it had been a DC8."

--MD


 

DISASTER DETAILS

Airline: Air Canada

Location: Seven miles north of Toronto International Airport

Aircraft: Douglas DC-8-63

Date: July 5, 1970, 8:09am

Total Fatalities: 109 of 109



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