BOAC Flight 781 De Havilland Comet ‘Mid Air Explosion’

There is speculation that it was shot down? Was it?

On Sunday 10 January 1954, British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 781, a de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 registered G-ALYP, took off from Ciampino Airport in Rome, Italy, en route to Heathrow Airport in London, England, on the final leg of its flight from Singapore. At about 10:51 GMT, the aircraft suffered an explosive decompression at altitude and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing everyone on board. The accident aircraft G-ALYP was the third Comet built.

Gerry Bull, a former BOAC engineer, said that when he inspected the aircraft in Rome he looked for “incidental damage”. He did not find any, so he believed Flight 781 was fit for flight. Bull and the same team of engineers later examined South African Airways Flight 201 before its final flight.

On 10 January 1954, the flight took off at 09:34 GMT for the final-stage flight to London. At about 09:50 GMT BOAC Argonaut, G-ALHJ piloted by Captain Johnson, which was flying the same route at a lower altitude was in contact with Captain Gibson. During a radio communication about weather conditions, the conversation was abruptly cut off. The last words heard from Captain Gibson were “George How Jig, did you get my …”. Soon afterwards wreckage was seen falling into the sea by fishermen.

Heathrow Airport initially listed Flight 781 as being delayed; around 1:30 PM the airport took the flight off the arrivals board.

Official findings concerning BOAC Flight 781 and South African Airways Flight 201 were released jointly on 1 February 1955, in Civil Aircraft Accident Report of the Court of Inquiry into the Accidents to Comet G-ALYP on 10 January 1954 and Comet G-ALYY on 8 April 1954. After the equivalent of 3,000 flights simulated with G-ALYU, investigators at the RAE were able to conclude that the crash of G-ALYP had been due to failure of the pressure cabin at the forward ADF window in the roof. This window was one of two apertures for the aerials of an electronic navigation system in which opaque fiberglass panels took the place of the window glass. The failure was a result of metal fatigue caused by the repeated pressurization and de-pressurization of the aircraft cabin. Another fact was that the supports around the windows were riveted, not glued, as the original specifications for the aircraft had called for. The problem was exacerbated by the punch rivet construction technique employed. Unlike drill riveting, the imperfect nature of the hole created by punch riveting caused manufacturing defect cracks, which may have caused fatigue cracks to start around the rivet. The investigators examined the final piece of wreckage with a microscope.


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