Swissair Flight 316

On 7 October 1979, a Swissair DC-8 crashed while attempting to land at Athens-Ellinikon International Airport in Athens, Greece. Of the 154 passengers and crew on board, 14 were killed in the accident.

Swissair Flight 316
Swissair Flight 316 HB-IED after accident.jpg
Flight 316 on fire after landing
Date7 October 1979 (1979-10-07)
SummaryRunway overrun
SiteEllinikon International Airport, Athens, Greece
37°52′26″N 23°44′27″E / 37.87389°N 23.74083°E / 37.87389; 23.74083Coordinates: 37°52′26″N 23°44′27″E / 37.87389°N 23.74083°E / 37.87389; 23.74083
Aircraft typeDouglas DC-8-62
Aircraft nameUri
Flight originZurich Airport
1st stopoverGeneva Airport
2nd stopoverEllinikon International Airport
3rd stopoverChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport
DestinationBeijing Capital International Airport

The crashEdit

The aircraft involved in 1977

Swissair Flight 316 was an international scheduled passenger service from Zurich, Switzerland to Peking, China (now Beijing) via Geneva, Athens, and Bombay (now Mumbai). The aircraft, named Uri, was piloted by Captain Fritz Schmutz and First Officer Martin Deuringer.[2]

Flight 316 touched down on runway 15L at a speed of 146 knots (270 km/h; 168 mph). The aircraft decelerated but overran the runway and came to rest on a public road. The left wing and tail separated, and fire broke out. Fourteen of the 142 passengers on board died.[3] Among the dead were British, German, and French citizens. Of the passengers on board, 100 were doctors on their way to a medical convention in China.[4]

One of Flight 316's survivors was Hans Morgenthau, a professor emeritus from the University of Chicago and expert in International Relations.[5]


After the crash it was learned that the aircraft was transporting over 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of radioactive isotopes and a small amount of plutonium. The plutonium was in the luggage of one of the doctors on board, and was briefly missing in the aftermath of the crash,[5] although it was quickly found.[6] Authorities had firemen and other rescue workers checked for radiation exposure.[7]

The crash destroyed over $2 million worth of industrial diamonds bound for Bombay. Most of the uncut diamonds were found by police, but they were destroyed by the crash's intense heat.[8]

Two days after the crash of Flight 316, Greek authorities charged pilot Fritz Schmutz with manslaughter plus other charges.[9] At a trial in 1983, Schmutz, along with co-pilot Deuringer, were found guilty of multiple charges including manslaughter with negligence, causing multiple bodily injury, and obstructing air traffic, and were sentenced to five and two and a half years in prison respectively.[10] Schmutz and Deuringer were set free on bail while they appealed their sentences.[11] A year after their sentencing, the court ruled Schmutz and Deuringer could substitute fines in place of jail time. Neither pilot had flown since the accident, but they were employed by Swissair.[12]


The accident investigation determined the causes of the accident were that the crew touched down too far down the runway, at too high a speed, following a non-stabilised approach, and that they failed to properly utilise the aircraft's brake and reverse thrust systems, which resulted in their being unable to stop the aircraft within the available runway and overrun distance.

One member of the Operations team of the Accident Investigation Committee had a different opinion from the rest of the Committee regarding the cause of the accident, stating that he believed the crew failed to realise the touchdown speed and distance, failed to follow the company's poor-braking-action landing technique, and failed to properly utilise the aircraft's brake and reverse thrust systems.[2]


  1. ^ Pilot charged in 14 aircrash fatalities. Bangor, Maine: Bangor Daily News (UPI). 10 October 1979, p. 34.
  2. ^ a b Aircraft accident: McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62 HB-IDE Athens-Ellinikon International Airport. Aviation Safety Network, Flight Safety Foundation.
  3. ^ 14 die when plane overshoots runway. Spencer, Iowa: The Daily Reporter (UPI). 8 October 1979, p. 5.
  4. ^ Plane crash tolls mount. Daytona Beach, Florida: Daytona Beach Morning Journal (AP). 9 October 1979, p. 8B.
  5. ^ a b Plutonium missing. St. Joseph, Missouri: St. Joseph Gazette (UPI). 9 October 1979, p. 2A.
  6. ^ Recover plutonium from wrecked plane. Warsaw, Indiana: Times-Union (UPI). 9 October 1979, p. 1.
  7. ^ Swissair carried isotopes. Bangor, Maine: Bangor Daily News (UPI). 9 October 1979, p. 8.
  8. ^ Plane crash ruins cargo of diamonds. Eugene, Oregon: Eugene Register-Guardian (UPI). 10 October 1979, p. 4A.
  9. ^ Hope, Keirin. Swissair pilot charged in Athens crash. St. Petersburg, Florida: St. Petersburg Times (UPI). 10 October 1979, p. 14A.
  10. ^ Greek court sentences pilots for fatal crash. Ottawa, Ontario: Ottawa Citizen (Reuters). 27 April 1983, p. 6.
  11. ^ Swiss pilots freed. Montreal, Quebec: The Montreal Gazette (AP). 28 April 1983, p. A10.
  12. ^ Pilots' sentences reduced. Nashua, New Hampshire: Nashua Telegraph (AP). 26 September 1984, p. 3.

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