More than 260 people on board a plane including pilgrims returning from Mecca and crew were tragically killed after an underinflated tyre triggered a horrifying crash
An underinflated tyre saw all 261 passengers on a flight burn to death as they tried to flee the inescapable inferno death trap.
The flight, which took off 31 years ago today (Monday, July 11), boarded pilgrims returning to Nigeria from Mecca – charred bodies of whom were seen falling from the plane as it plummeted to disaster.
The Nationair Canada DC-8 burst into flames after take-off from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and was soon destroyed by the blaze which spread into the cabins before crashing in the Arabian desert – killing all 247 pilgrim passengers and 14 crew members on board.
Canadian and Saudi authorities investigated and discovered the tragic fireball crash was triggered by a single underinflated tyre, made worse by a series of errors in judgement in the days leading up to the tragic crash as the ground support team had insufficient knowledge and experience.
The crew only became aware of the fire when a flight attendant rushed into the cockpit reporting ‘smoke in the back – real bad’.
Before take-off, the lead mechanic of the Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 noticed two tyres were below the minimum for flight dispatch and tried to inflate them – but no nitrogen gas was readily available. But despite this the project manager, not willing to delay, gave the all-clear for take-off.
Soon after taking to the sky, one of the tyres became overheated and weakened as a result – and then another did the same, causing enough friction to spark the fatal fire.
The pilot tried to return for an emergency landing after telling air traffic control he had lost command of the plane and that there was a fire, said the Saudi civil aviation department.
The blaze was further intensified into an inferno when the fire burnt through the plane’s fuel tank, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which eventually engulfed the cabin floor.
Burnt bodies began falling out of the aircraft when seat harnesses were disintegrated by the fire – before the plane came down just 1km short of the runway.
The Transportation Safety Board later discovered that had the crew left the landing gear extended, the accident may have been averted.
Soon after the tragedy, a group of Toronto-based Nationair Canada flight attendants pooled funds to create a memorial plaque inscribed with the names of the victims.
As a result of the crash, Nationair Canada suffered serious problems with public image and reliability and found itself in financial ruin – with millions also owed to the Canadian government in unpaid landing fees.
Creditors started seizing aircraft and demanded cash up front for services, and the company was declared bankrupt in May 1993, owing CDN$75 million (£48m).
Four years later in 1997, Robert Obadia – owner of Nationair Canada and its parent company Nolisair – pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud in relation to the company’s activities.
This fatal crash, however, wasn’t the first in Saudi Arabia to have killed all passengers on board. In 1979, a flight taking off from Nigeria to Pakistan – again also carrying pilgrims returning from Mecca – crashed, killing all 151 people on board, 140 passengers and 11 crew members.
The captain reported smoke in the cabin after take-off, a government spokesman said soon after the tragedy, and, thereafter, contact with the plane was lost.