Agreement on 346 deaths. As everyone kept silent about the fatal defect of the DC-10

If the passengers of the DC-10 even a drop doubted their luck, then after the news on March 3, 1974, they definitely needed to run after the lottery tickets. The newest at that time the liner collapsed because of an error that almost caused another catastrophe two years ago. Then serious people in expensive suits shook hands: they agreed to settle everything, if only it would be without publicity. In fact, nothing was corrected, and 346 people aboard the DC-10 Turkish Airlines turned into 20 thousand fragments – at least so many rescuers found in the woods near Paris. The catastrophe would not have happened if the high ranks did not consider the completion of the aircraft more expensive than the lives of passengers and crew.


  • The First Bell
  • Door to the outside
  • Maybe we can agree?
  • Passengers were thrown together with the seats
  • Catastrophes did not end

The First Bell

At the end of the sixties, large airlines demanded from manufacturers the maximum capacity possible. At the request McDonnell Douglas and Boeing responded, taking up the wide-bodied DC-10 and 747 respectively. Now it is possible to say unequivocally that Boeing won the rivalry, but then the outcome of the battle was unlikely to be anyone’s guess.

One of the first airlines to receive DC-10, was American Airlines. The aircraft were operated for over a year without any complaints, up to June 12, 1972. That day DC-10 was flying Flight 96 from Los Angeles to New York with landings in Detroit and Buffalo. Up until the departure from Detroit everything went well.

Suddenly, at an altitude of about 3,500 meters, when the plane continued to ascend to the cruising level, something like an explosion occurred in the rear of the cabin. Hydraulic systems are damaged, the rudder (responsible for turning left-right relative to the vertical axis) is out of order. The pilots at first thought that they had collided with another plane.


In the passenger compartment, the devil was going on, he knows that: because of decompression, the air bursts overboard, things are flying around the cabin, people are panicking. It’s hardest to imagine the state of flight attendant Sidia Smith, who was cooking coffee in the back of the cabin: through a hole in the floor, she saw the neighborhood of Detroit. The girl informed the crew about this, the pilots were very surprised by the described damage. Decompression itself was not as dangerous as a damaged hydraulics. The cables were located in the floor, which literally fell into the cargo bay due to the pressure drop.

On this voyage, the commander was Bruce McCormick, an experienced pilot who, by that time, had flownmore than 24,000 hours. Left almost without controls, the pilot used a non-uniform thrust of the engines to change direction, so that one wing sought to get ahead of the other. McCormick managed to apply this method to DC-10, the liner with a large radius turned around.

The commander doubted the choice of the airport for landing: a civilian in Detroit, from where he flew, or the military base of Wright-Patterson. The first option is closer, but the second is longer than the band, and for problems with management this is an important advantage. McCormick preferred Detroit. A new problem arose: the aircraft was about half as fast as needed – about 450 meters per minute. For lack of hydraulics, the commander had to increase the thrust of the engines. The rate of decline slowed, but for landing the aircraft moved too fast.

One of the options for the DC-10. Image:

The crew was able to direct the aircraft to the lane, but with faulty flaps and a touch speed of about 300 km / h, a huge liner continued to float on the ground, the inclusion of a reverse on the left and right engines did not improve the situation. DC-10 moved off the lane and stopped 300 meters from its end. It was less than thirty minutes since the departure from Detroit to return to the same airport. All remained alive, McCormick was deservedly called a hero, and the investigators had to find out how the new plane had a hole in the fuselage.

Door to the outside

The luggage compartment door was missing, as if an explosion had occurred. But there were no other damages that would indicate a bomb. On the day of the incident, the Ontario police station received a strange phone call: the man said that there was a metal door and … a coffin with the deceased on the ground. It was transported in the cargo compartment DC-10.

Almost in all airplanes, the doors open inwards. This is done for safety reasons: when flying, the pressure presses on the inner walls. Because of this, heroic attempts by the brawlers to open the door at cruising altitude are doomed to failure: it will not be possible to overcome such a strong pressure on a person, even very insistent.

But the DC-10 has an important feature: the lid opens outward to allow more luggage to fit into the cargo bay. The locking mechanism must withstand the pressure on the door when flying. During the tests, investigators found that the lever that lowers the loader may be in the closed position, while the mechanism is in fact not locked to the end. It’s enough that in the cabin the scoreboard for the unclosed door goes out. Outside the plane, it is impossible to detect a flaw. Thus, neither pilots nor loaders can know about the problem.

From the cargo door DC-10 remained only a piece of skin. Image:

Maybe we can agree?

The National Transport Safety Council (NTSB) said that the door must be urgently refined. Important clarification: NTSB can only give recommendations, but the rights to suspend flights or something to demand from airlines or manufacturers it does not. But it is the FAA – the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States.

In McDonnell Douglas were not happy with the conclusions of NTSB: at stake was the reputation of the newest liner. Boeing would take advantage of the suspension of DC-10 flights to strengthen the position of 747 on the market. Then President McDonnell Douglas Jackson McGowen decided on a fateful deal with the head of the FAA, John Schafer.

The essence of the gentlemen’s agreement (the so-called informal deals, where the reputation of the parties primarily affects the reputation of the parties) was simple: the FAA does not suspend the DC-10 flights, and the manufacturer will voluntarily amend the door design – and the incident with American Airlines flight 96 will never happen again.


McDonnell Douglas actually made changes to the design of DC-10, but the improvements were insignificant. A window and a warning sign for the movers appeared at the door: when locked, they had to visually verify that the mechanism was securely closed, and the device itself was slightly modified. At the same time, NTSB recommended also to make ventilation holes between the passenger and cargo holdings, so that during decompression the air would leave through them, rather than deform the floor.

There was one more important study, which decided to close my eyes. Doors for DC-10 were developed by Convair. Just two weeks after the 96th incident, a specialist from the company Dan Applegate prepared a report for his superiors who asked to report to McDonnell Douglas: the DC-10 is catastrophically degraded during decompression, which may occur due to miscalculations in the design of the tailgate. Moreover, it became clear even during ground tests before putting the liner into operation. “According to Murphy’s law, for about 25 years of operation DC-10 cargo door will open. I think this will lead to the loss of the aircraft, “ – warnedApplegate. The bosses laconically hinted to Applegate that the problem was exaggerated, and McDonnell Douglas had already promised to fix the defect.

Passengers were thrown together with the seats

After the incident with flight 96, the DC-10 liners flew for two years without serious incidents. The incident was forgotten, the problem was considered solved. March 3, 1974 comes the terrible news: nine minutes after the departure from Paris-Orly airport, the DC-10 of Turkish Airlines crashed with 346 people on board. There are no survivors. The catastrophe at that time became the largest in the history of aviation. A bad record will surpass the collision in Tenerife of two Boeing 747 three years later.

Almost nothing left of the plane . People could not survive: the impact force was such that at the crash site rescuers found 20 thousand fragments of bodies, and most of the fragments of the liner were less than 30 centimeters in size. Nine passengers were never identified. Specialists began to investigate the first crash of DC-10.

Experts immediately notice the disturbing similarities between this crash and the incident with the similar DC-10 two years ago in the US. Approximately at the same height (. 12 thousand feet, or about 3650 meters) at the plane going decompression – sex again breaks, and with such force that the six passengers with seating throw from the cabin. Hydraulics are destroyed, the plane becomes uncontrollable.

Flight Turkish Airlines was doomed: the damage was more serious than that of an American Airlines plane. The DC-10 crashed into the ground at a speed of 780 km / h about 72 seconds after decompression. He cut down trees on the territory of 700 × 100 meters.

Chairs with passengers will find a day later at 15 kilometers from the crash site. It becomes clear that the passengers were thrown out before the collision of the liner with the earth. In the same place, specialists notice the left cargo door DC-10. Traces of thermal effects, which would indicate an explosion, no. There was only one option – the vulnerability of the door did not go away.

Catastrophes did not end

Employees of NTSB are at a loss: after the incident with the American Airlines plane they were sure that the problem remained in the past. Now it becomes obvious that all DC-10s are in potential danger, and the recurrence of the disaster is a matter of time. Changes McDonnell Douglas were useless: most movers generally did not know why the window in the freight door of the liner was needed.

At the same time, an agreement was opened between FAA and McDonnell Douglas, and at the same time, the door problem with the DC-10 testing. The manufacturer paid a high price for negligence: claims from the relatives of the victims of flight 981, a tarnished reputation that the aircraft that the company itself, and now the ban on flights to complete elimination of shortcomings. Only after the collapse in France the problem was finally decided.

DC-10 got a bad name, which could not be got rid of. Only McDonnell Douglas has corrected the mechanism of locking the door and everything has relatively settled down, as in 1979 a new catastrophe occurs: when the DC-10 American Airlines left Chicago from DC, the left engine broke off due to poor maintenance, damaging the wing. The plane became uncontrollable, all people were killed on board (271 people) and two more on the ground. The FAA again suspended flights of this model.

Six months later, a new shock: New Zealand’s DC-10 crashes into Mount Erebus (Antarctica), killing 257 people. The reasons were incorrect flight plan and erroneous actions of the crew. Formally, the plane was not involved, but as soon as they called DC-10 in the press: Death Cruiser, Deadly Crash, Death Contraption. There were other incidents with this airliner.

The business of McDonnell Douglas went into decline. In the early nineties, the company released MD-11, the successor to DC-10, which borrowed many elements from the progenitor. The manufacturer also considered the creation of a two-deck MD-12, but the airlines did not show interest in the liner. Finally, in 1997, Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas, gradually curtailing the release of MD-11.

The case with flight 981 influenced aviation. No agreements between the manufacturer and the regulator now can not be: in 2013, the FAA suspended the flights of Boeing 787 for about four months due to a couple of cases of battery fires. Supervisory authorities of other countries followed suit. Unlike the events of the 1970s, this time no one waited for the crash.

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