Skip to main content

Tragedy of Emperor Ashoka, Air India's first Boeing 747

The most tragic incidence of Air India flight, when Boeing 747 crashed off Mumbai, into the Arabian Sea and killed 214 people on board

Emperor Ashoka, Air India's first Boeing 747 flight

Air India's Emperor Ashoka, the first Boeing 747

Air India's Emperor Ashoka, the first Boeing 747

Tragedy of Emperor Ashoka, Air India's first Boeing 747

Air India 855 flight scheduled service provided between Mumbai (Bombay) and Dubai, UAE, crashed because of human error. The flight captain having become temporarily perplexed due to the simulation of the in situ spatially varying nonlinear seismic response and ground motions. It is always termed as the critical issue with respect to artificial ground motion simulation when the flight captain was mentally disoriented and utterly confused after he failed to identify the reason for the failure of the cockpit flight instrument. It proved to be the deadliest Air India's aircraft crash witnessed after 1985, Flight 182 bombing.

The human psychology factor plays a very prominent role and it is a usability behavior pattern, including prompt responses and reactions shown by human beings, particularly the aircraft pilots responding with predilections and reactions in response to various sensory and visual stimuli.

This study explores how Air India 855 flight pilot and other crew members have demonstrated the ergonomics phenomena after the nasty incidence due to the creation of sudden panic, and confusion, changes in the consciousness and mindset with abrupt reactions to respond and interact with those prevailing situation in the physical environment.

Air India 855 epitomizes and exemplifies the ways sensory human factors contribute to an accident. These human factors, known to be ergonomics, is the human behavior application and principles, demonstrating the manner in which a person reacts and performs psychologically and physically to any particular circumstance and environment due to an abrupt change in brain inner design of process and system.

In Psychology, a human factor plays a vital role, is special behavior for usability, that includes responses produced by human beings, which are unrelated to its usability, responding with reactions and predilections in reply to visual or any different sensory stimuli.

After this incident, the ergonomics phenomena, considered as a sudden panic, have generated public consciousness and human mindset and reaction on how they interact and respond to the prevailing change in the physical environment.

Air India 855 flight was in its scheduled service, and the people were offered to fly between Mumbai- Bombay, and UAE- Dubai by Air India. The crash was understood to have been triggered by the actions of the flight captain, who became spatially disoriented and completely perplexed after certain flight instruments in the cockpit failed to function. It happened to be the deadliest and highly implacable Air India's aircraft crash after the Flight 182 bombing in 1985. This was considered the most irreconcilable and fearful aviation accident in Indian history until the midair collision of Charkhi Dadri in 1996. Flight 855, as of 2020, is known to be the second deadliest Air India, aircraft crash within these both categories.

The Flight 855 of Air India crashed on the New Year Day evening in 1978 at around 3 km (1.9 miles; 1.6 nautical miles, from the Bandra coast of Bombay, now Mumbai. The complete 213 passengers with 23 crew members on board died. It is believed that this aircraft crash was caused by the spatially disoriented captain after he observed in the cockpit, one flight aircraft panel board instrument failed to function. Considered the deadliest Air India aircraft crash, it was also the most frightful Indian aviation accident.

Scroll to Continue

Around one minute from runway 27, after takeoff, after crossing the coastline of Bombay, Captain Kukar continued with the programmed right turn above the Arabian Sea. Thereafter, the aircraft momentarily came back to a regular level position. Almost immediately, the aircraft started to roll towards the left and failed to regain its original level flight.

The probable accident cause was because of the irrational wheel input control provided by captain Kukar, entirely unaware of the aircraft's attitude after the ADI- Attitude Director Indicator started malfunctioning. The aircraft failed to assume control with respect to other flight instruments. The Captain failed to evaluate the aircraft's attitude with other flight instruments together with Horizon Standby Indicator. Also, the copilot made futile attempts to monitor and gauge the flight instruments, failed to offer any support to the captain by finding out the aircraft's altitude.

After recovering the CVR- Cockpit voice recorder obtained from the debris discovered that captain Kukar instantly noticed the problem, and he immediately asked, "What is wrong with my instruments..." Thereafter, he informed that the AI- Attitude Indicator has failed to work and had "toppled", which means the aircraft is shown towards the right bank. The First officer Virmani, whose functional AI presumably showed a left bank and did not notice the captain's alarming indication, said, "Mine looks fine, but looks toppled." This showed that his section of AI also toppled. At that instance, the Captain mistakenly assumed that both prime AIs showed the right bank. Moreover, the ADI- Attitude Direction Indicator indicated that the flight was yet banking in the right direction. The aircraft was flying at sunset time over the dark Arabian Sea atmosphere, and that failed the aircrew from visually confirm the reading on the AI instrument with the correct position of the horizon situation beyond the cockpit window. Also, it appears from the voice recorder that Alfred Jose Faria, the Flight engineer tried to explain by gaining the attention of the captain regarding another backup monitor about the plane’s altitude, merely 5 seconds prior to the crash.

The mistaken perception of the captain concerning the aircraft's attitude caused the control system of the flight to further assume left rudder and left bank, resulting in the Boeing 747 to move further left into a 108 degrees bank and quickly lose altitude. Merely 101 seconds upon leaving the airport runway, the jet collapsed at a nose-down 35-degree angle in the Arabian Sea. No one survived out of the 23 crew members and 190 passengers.

Sequence of Events

The aircraft left Santa Cruz, Bombay Airport for Dubai International Airport as its destination. About one minute of takeoff from the airport runway 27, the flight Captain Kukar diverted the flight, making a scheduled right turn after crossing the coastline of Bombay above the Arabian Sea, and the aircraft momentarily came back to its normal level position. Thereafter, it started moving to the left, never to regain the level flight.

The cockpit voice recorder, an electronic recording mechanism situated in the aircraft for a specific purpose to facilitate the aviation incident and accident investigation and also known as a black box. In fact, they are bright orange in color to facilitate the recovery of events after accidents.

The flight recorder recovered from the Flight 855 of the Air India wreckage revealed the events that occurred just before the crash. Captain Kukar instantly noticed the problem. He declared and said, "What happened to my instruments?" The captain tried to explain that his AI- attitude indicator had "toppled", which means that it was indicating the aircraft positioned in a right bank. Initially, officer Virmani, whose AI was presumably functional was indicating a left bank and he failed to notice the captain's unease. He explained, "My AI- attitude indicator has not toppled yet, but looks fine." In fact, the Captain mistakenly believed that both primary indications of AIs are showing a right bank, which in effect, confirmed what he understood he was observing. The crash incident occurred after sunset when the aircraft was moving above the dark Arabian Sea, and that left the crew members not able to crosscheck visually the readings of AI instrument with the clear and real horizon out of the flight cockpit windows.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Shyam Gokarn

Related Articles