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Air India Flight 855 was a scheduled passenger flight that crashed during the evening of New Year's Day 1978 about 3 km (1.9 mi; 1.6 nmi) off the coast of Bandra, Bombay (now Mumbai). All 213 passengers and crew on board were killed. The crash is believed to have been caused by the captain having become spatially disoriented after the failure of one of the flight instruments in the cockpit. It was Air India's deadliest aircraft crash until the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985. It was also the deadliest aviation accident in India until the Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision in 1996. As of 2019, Flight 855 is still the second deadliest aircraft crash in both of these categories.[1][2]

Air India Flight 855
Boeing 747-237B, Air-India AN0574902.jpg
VT-EBD, the aircraft involved, on New Year's Day 1976, exactly two years before the accident.
Date1 January 1978 (1978-01-01)
SummaryInstrument malfunction, leading to a loss of situation awareness; crashed into the sea[1]
SiteArabian Sea, near Bombay, India
18°58′30″N 72°09′33″E / 18.975°N 72.1592°E / 18.975; 72.1592Coordinates: 18°58′30″N 72°09′33″E / 18.975°N 72.1592°E / 18.975; 72.1592
Aircraft typeBoeing 747-237B
Aircraft nameEmperor Ashoka
OperatorAir India
Flight originSantacruz Airport
Bombay, India
DestinationDubai International Airport
Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Aircraft and crewEdit

The aircraft involved was a Boeing 747-237B,[note 1] registration VT-EBD, named Emperor Ashoka. It was the first 747 delivered to Air India, in April 1971.[citation needed]

The flight crew consisted of the following persons:

  • The captain was 51-year old Madan Lal Kukar. He had joined Air India in 1956, and was experienced, having 18,000 flight hours.
  • The first officer was 42-year-old Indu Virmani, a former Air Force commander who joined Air India in 1976. He had 4,000 flight hours.
  • The flight engineer was 53-year-old Alfredo Faria, who joined Air India in 1955 and had 11,000 flight hours, making him one of Air India's most senior flight engineers at the time of the accident.[3]

Sequence of eventsEdit

The aircraft departed from Bombay's Santa Cruz Airport (later Sahar Airport, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport). The destination was Dubai International Airport in Dubai.[1][4]

Approximately one minute after takeoff from runway 27, Captain Kukar made a scheduled right turn upon crossing the Bombay coastline over the Arabian Sea, after which the aircraft briefly returned to a normal level position. Soon it began rolling to the left, and never regained level flight.

The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage revealed that captain Kukar was the first to notice a problem, when he said, "What's happened here, my instruments..." The captain was explaining that his Attitude indicator (AI) had "toppled", meaning that it was still showing the aircraft in a right bank. First officer Virmani, whose presumably functional AI was now showing a left bank (and not noticing the captain's concern), said, "Mine has also toppled, looks fine." This indicated that his AI was also toppled, but there is some belief that the Captain mistakenly took this to mean that both primary AIs were indicating a right bank. It was after sunset and the aircraft was flying over a dark Arabian Sea, leaving the aircrew unable to visually cross-check their AI instrument readings with the actual horizon outside the cockpit windows.

The Boeing 747 had a third backup AI in the center instrument panel between the two pilots, and the transcripts of the cockpit conversation showed flight engineer Faria telling the captain, "Don't go by that one, don't go by that one..." trying to direct his attention towards that third AI, or perhaps to another instrument called the turn and bank indicator, just five seconds before the aircraft impacted the sea.

The captain's mistaken perception of the aircraft's attitude resulted in him using the aircraft flight control system to add more left bank and left rudder, causing the Boeing 747 to roll further left into a bank of 108 degrees and rapidly lose altitude. Just 101 seconds after leaving the runway, the jet hit the Arabian Sea at an estimated 35-degree nose-down angle. There were no survivors among the 190 passengers and 23 crew members.[1]

Probable causeEdit

The partially recovered wreckage revealed no evidence of explosion, fire, or any electrical or mechanical failure; and an initial theory of sabotage was ruled out.

The investigation concluded that the probable cause was "due to the irrational control inputs by the captain following complete unawareness of the attitude as his AI had malfunctioned. The crew failed to gain control based on the other flight instruments."[citation needed]

US Federal District Judge James M. Fitzgerald, in a 139-page decision issued 1 November 1985, rejected charges of negligence against the Boeing Company, Lear Siegler Inc, the manufacturer of the attitude director indicator, and the Collins Radio division of Rockwell International, which manufactured the backup system in a suit related to the crash. Steven C. Marshall, the attorney for Boeing asserted that the crash had been caused by Captain Madan Kukar, who he said was "flying illegally under the influence of diabetic drugs, a condition compounded by his alcoholic intake and dieting in the 24 hours before the flight," and not due to equipment malfunctions. The suit was dismissed in 1986.[4][5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The aircraft was a Boeing 747-200B model; Boeing assigns a unique code for each company that buys one of its aircraft, which is applied as a infix to the model number at the time the aircraft is built, hence "747-237B" for a Boeing 747-200B built for Air India.


  1. ^ a b c d Accident description for VT-EBD at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ Accident description for HZ-AIH at the Aviation Safety Network
  3. ^ "April2017". Issuu. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Air India jet crashes just after takeoff - Jan 01, 1978 -". Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ "Theory on Air India Crash Backed by a Pilot". The New York Times. 21 April 1985.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit