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Lufthansa 540

By Patrick Mondout

On November 20, 1974, a Lufthansa 747 carrying 157 passengers and crew stalled during takeoff from Nairobi and crashed beyond the runway killing 59.

Flight 540 was a regularly scheduled flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg with a stop in Nairobi. While preparing for takeoff, the flight engineer failed to open the air-bleed valves as required on the pre-flight checklist. This prevented the Boeing 747's pneumatic system from working. In turn, this prevented the leading-edge slats from automatically deploying as needed during takeoff.

When the aircraft rotated for takeoff, it stalled and the crew was not able to diagnose the problem in the time they had left before hitting a raised road beyond the end of the runway. This caused the aircraft to breakup and started a fire.

This was the first fatal accident involving a Boeing 747 and changes were made to its systems to ensure pilots are warned if such a condition exists before takeoff. (At least two incidents prior to Flight 540 involving the same conditions - which the pilots were able to recover from - were apparently not enough to mandate a change. As is often the case, loss of life was required to prove there really was a problem.)

Source: Gilchrist, Peter. Boeing 747 Classic. Motorbooks International, 2001

Lufthansa 540 at a Glance
AirlineLufthansa
DateNovember 20, 1974
Flight number540
Registration NumberD-ABYB
Crew Fatalities4 of 17
Passenger Fatalities55 of 140
Total Fatalities59 of 157

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.

 

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DISASTER DETAILS

Airline: Lufthansa

Location: near Nairobi, Kenya

Aircraft: Boeing 747

Date: November 20, 1974

Total Fatalities: 59 of 157



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