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Mid-air Crash Over Zagreb Kills 176

By Patrick Mondout

On September 10, 1976, an overworked Yugoslavian air traffic controller (ATC) failed to keep track of an Inex Adria DC-9 and a British Airways Trident 3B over Zagreb resulting in a collision and the deaths of all 176 aboard both planes in the worst ever mid-air collision (the death count would be surpassed in 1979).

The British Airways Trident was carrying 54 passengers and a crew of nine from London to Istanbul while the DC-9 was heading to the Yugoslav resort of Split to Cologne with a crew of five and 108 Germans on holiday.

Inex DC-9

An Inex DC-9 similar to the one involved in this crash, as seen in at Gatwick in May 1983.

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

 

At 10:13:53, the first controller calls to the British plane, "Beatours, maintain flight level 330 (33,000 feet) and report passing overhead Zagreb. Squawk Alpha 2332." The request is acknowledged.

At 10:14:04, the Inex plane calls in and informs the second controller they are, "325 crossing Zagreb at One Four." This means they were crossing 32,500 feet and climbing.

The alarmed second controller ask the DC-9, "What is your present level?"

At 10:14:17, the Inex crew responds, "327 (32,700 feet)."

At 10:14:22, the controller responds with "hold yourself at this height and report passing Zagreb", hoping the two radar blips on his screen, which are about to merge, will miss each other. The Inex asks, "What height?"

At 10:14:29, the controller tells the Inex, "The height you are climbing through because you have an aircraft in front of you at 335 from left to right." The Inex crew responds with, "OK, we'll remain precisely at 330 (33,000 feet)."

At 10:14:48, the points on his radar screen merged. He then called out to the the Inex, but there was no response. The planes crashed near the Vrolec Villlage near Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia).

The Trident was flying into the sunlight and the Inex plane was gaining altitude. Both factors made it difficult for the Trident to spot the DC-9. The controller was speaking in Croatian to the Yugoslavian plane, which meant that the Trident crew was deprived of information that might have saved their lives.

 

British Trident

This is the actual Hawker Siddeley Trident 3B involved in this collision, as seen at Heathrow in May 1974.

Image courtesy of John Stewart. Find more of his photos at Airliners.net.

 

Ironically, if the controller had not asked the DC-9 to maintain it's height, the accident would have been avoided; the DC-9 leveled-off before colliding and actual was slightly higher than the Trident.

Five air traffic controllers and two supervisors were arrested but all except one, Gradimir Tasic, were released. Tasic initially received a seven year sentence, but it was released after air traffic controllers around the world petitioned for his release.

While was Tasic was the controller responsible, he was working short-handed that day (there should have been two controllers working his sector).

Background

Commercial aircraft pilots do not just take any path that appeals to them while they're flying. The are given (or request) vectors and altitudes between locations which they are to stick to unless there is a good reason and even then only with permission by the responsible ATC. This is supposed to ensure aircraft maintain a minimum separation from one another making collisions impossible.

It takes the human eye 1/10th of a second to see an object. It takes about a full second to recognize the object and still more time to recognize it's path and that it is a danger to you. Then your brain must decide what to do and send signals to your muscles to guide your aircraft out of the way. (Which direction are you going to turn? Are you going to pull up or dive?) Your trusty aircraft is not a high-performance jet fighter. It is a civilian passenger jet weighing about 200,000 pounds.

Imagine you have just determined that the DC-9 one mile (5,280 feet) in front of you is a threat. One full mile. Seems like a lot, doesn't it? However, the DC-9 is cruising at 580 mph and so are you. Thus, you are closing in on one another at 1060 mph. You are now less than 3 seconds from impact. Do you really think both you and your aircraft can react sufficiently inside of three seconds to miss to the other aircraft? And assuming you somehow manage to pull off the impossible with your aircraft, what about the other aircraft? If that pilot does reacts at the same time but in the same direction as you, you'll still collide.

As you can see, it is critical that ATC maintains proper separation because at these speeds, it is too much to ask the crew to do so.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1977 Yearbook.

Inex Adria Aviopromet/British Airways 550/475 at a Glance
AirlineInex Adria Aviopromet/British Airways
DateSeptember 10, 1976
Flight number550/475
Registration NumberYU-AJR/G-AWZT
Crew Fatalities5 of 5/9 of 9
Passenger Fatalities108 of 108/54 of 54
Total Fatalities113 of 113/63 of 63
Figures are for the Inex flight first and the BA Trident second.

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 am adopted and have been trying to trace my paternal family for some time. I have now discovered that my Mother was a British Airways Stewardess on board this flight. Obviously this means that I will never have the opportunity to meet her. The purpose of this message is to ask if there is anyone out there than can give me any information at all about this tragedy on a personal level.

I have a book 'Cleared to Collide?' and a copy of a Granada documentary on the crash. I plan to visit the crash site early next year to lay some flowers.

Perhaps you knew my mother? Her name was Rona Goddard-Crawley and she worked for British Airways for ten years from 1966. I would be most grateful if you could offer me any information at all my e-mail address is ashaw@brayleino.co.uk"

--Ali


 

DISASTER DETAILS

A number of BEA Trident 3s at Heathrow, September 1978.

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

Airline: Inex Adria Aviopromet/British Airways

Location: Croatia

Aircraft: DC-9/HS-121 Trident

Date: September 10, 1976

Total Fatalities: 113 of 113/63 of 63



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