On this day in 1973, a plane returning Muslim pilgrims from Mecca crashes in Kano, Nigeria, killing 176 people. It was the deadliest air disaster of its time.
The Royal Jordanian Boeing 707-300 was chartered by Nigeria Airways to take Muslims in Nigeria on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. There were 198 passengers and 11 crew members on board as the plane approached Kano’s airport.
In winter, flying in and out of Kano can be difficult for pilots. The city is on the edge of the Sahara and harmattan, the hot dusty winds of the desert, can suddenly reduce visibility without warning. As the 707’s American pilot, John Waterman, brought the plane in to Kano, there was a sudden sandstorm. The blinding conditions forced Waterman to abandon the landing and try again.
On the second attempt, the landing gear collapsed as the plane hit the runway and the 707 burst into flames. It was never determined exactly what caused the landing gear to fail. Some believed that the runway was in poor shape and that it caused the gear to crumple on contact. Others suggested that the plane had been loaded too heavily with extra fuel.
In total, 170 passengers and six crew members lost their lives in the crash. Most of the dead were consigned to a common grave. The crash also led indirectly to another death when a local boy was caught stealing from the dead bodies. Relatives of the victims beat the boy to death on the spot.
Two days later, another charter jet from Mecca nearly crashed when it clipped a tree while landing at an airport in Lagos, Nigeria.