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1972

Jet crashes after takeoff at Heathrow, killing 118 people

On this day in 1972, a Trident jetliner crashes after takeoff from Heathrow Airport in London, killing 118 people. The official cause of this accident remains unknown, but it may have happened simply because the plane was carrying too much weight.

As the summer of 1972 approached, there were serious problems facing the air-travel industry. Pilots were threatening to strike any day due to lack of security. Hijackings were becoming more common and pilots were feeling particularly vulnerable since they most often bore the brunt of the violence.

However, on June 18 at Heathrow Airport outside of London, all appeared to be running smoothly. The BEA morning flight to Brussels was full and weather conditions were perfect. The Trident 1 jet took off with no incident but, just after its wheels retracted, it began falling from the sky. The plane split on impact and an intense fireball from the plane’s fuel supply erupted, scattering the fuselage and passengers. Only two of the 118 passengers and crew members on board were pulled from the wreckage alive; both died just hours later.

All efforts to explain the crash were fruitless. The investigators’ best guess was that the jet simply was carrying too much weight or that the weight was improperly distributed and the plane could not handle the stress.

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