Aviation Investigation Report A98H0003

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigated this occurrence for the purpose of advancing transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

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In-Flight Fire Leading to Collision with Water
Swissair Transport Limited
McDonnell Douglas MD-11 HB-IWF
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia 5 nm SW
2 September 1998

Summary

On 2 September 1998, Swissair Flight 111 departed New York, United States of America, at 2018 eastern daylight savings time on a scheduled flight to Geneva, Switzerland, with 215 passengers and 14 crew members on board. About 53 minutes after departure, while cruising at flight level 330, the flight crew smelled an abnormal odour in the cockpit. Their attention was then drawn to an unspecified area behind and above them and they began to investigate the source. Whatever they saw initially was shortly thereafter no longer perceived to be visible. They agreed that the origin of the anomaly was the air conditioning system. When they assessed that what they had seen or were now seeing was definitely smoke, they decided to divert. They initially began a turn toward Boston; however, when air traffic services mentioned Halifax, Nova Scotia, as an alternative airport, they changed the destination to the Halifax International Airport. While the flight crew was preparing for the landing in Halifax, they were unaware that a fire was spreading above the ceiling in the front area of the aircraft. About 13 minutes after the abnormal odour was detected, the aircraft's flight data recorder began to record a rapid succession of aircraft systems-related failures. The flight crew declared an emergency and indicated a need to land immediately. About one minute later, radio communications and secondary radar contact with the aircraft were lost, and the flight recorders stopped functioning. About five and one-half minutes later, the aircraft crashed into the ocean about five nautical miles southwest of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada. The aircraft was destroyed and there were no survivors.

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