Thursday, 5 September 2013

First Swiss jet disaster left its mark fiftly years ago

Fifty years ago, a Swissair plane flying from Zurich to Rome crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 80 people on board - more than half of them residents of one Swiss village. It was the first major jet disaster in Swiss aviation history.

Flight SR306 took off from Zurich Airport in thick fog shortly after six a.m. on September 4, 1963. Only four minutes later, as the plane – a French-built Caravelle - reached its cruising altitude, people on the ground noticed a trail of smoke coming from the left side of the aircraft. Shortly afterwards a long flame appeared on the left wing.

Several minutes later the plane began to descend from 2,700 metres, turning slowly before quickly losing altitude. It then went into a steep dive. Only nine minutes after taking off the jet crashed on the outskirts of the village of Dürrenäsch, 35 kilometres from Zurich airport.

The probable cause of the accident was a fire resulting from the overheating of the brakes during the taxiing phase.

The brakes overheated after the pilots applied full engine power during taxiing on the runway in dense fog. This caused wheels to burst. When the landing gear was retracted after take-off, hydraulic lines were damaged.

Spilt hydraulic fluid then caught fire when it came into contact with the overheated landing gear. The fire damaged the gear bay, then spread to the wing. Finally, the aircraft became impossible to control, leading to the crash.

The crash had some severe effects for a small village in the Canton of Zürich. 43 people from Humlikon boarded the plane to visit a farm test site near Geneva. Among these were:

19 married couples (who had a total of 39 children aged between 3½ and 24 years that were orphaned).
1 mother of 3 minors
1 father of 2 minors
1 father of 2 adults
2 single men.

The village lost one fifth of its population of 217 in the crash. The entire local council, the people who took care of the schools, and the post office clerk perished. Most orphans were looked after at home by relatives. Six children had to move, all but one of whom went to live with relatives nearby. Just over a month after the crash, a new council was elected by the remaining 52 people entitled to vote.

A further problem was the upkeep of the local farms, but people from the nearby villages helped. Apprentices came from local firms, students, firemen, soldiers, boy scouts, railroad workers and policemen, as well as volunteer school children. People also came from abroad to help. 600 tons of potatoes was harvested manually. Corn was threshed and the new crop seeds were sown in time.

Thursday 5 September 2013


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