Publish date:
Updated on

Jets collide over Zagreb

Two jets collide in mid-air over Zagreb, Yugoslavia, killing 176 people on this day in 1976. Errors by an air-traffic controller led to this deadly collision.

During the Cold War, flights between Europe and the Far East were routed around the nations of the Soviet bloc. This made the Zagreb air-traffic control region, in non-aligned Yugoslavia, one of the busiest in the world. Still, it had a staff of only 30 people. Because it lacked sophisticated technology, Zagreb air-traffic control relied on pilots transmitting their positions to controllers so that they could chart planes’ progress. Ideally, the controllers would have been able to track planes themselves using radar.

British Airways Flight 476 left Heathrow Airport in London for Istanbul, Turkey, at 9:30 a.m. The Trident 3B was carrying 54 passengers and eight crew members. As the flight reached German air space, an Inex charter airline flight took off from Split on the Yugoslavian coast carrying 108 West German passengers returning to Cologne from a holiday. Both planes were on course to go through the Zagreb region.

Meanwhile, Zagreb’s air-traffic control staff was working shorthanded because one of the controllers was late for work. Gradimir Tasic was in charge of getting the planes through the area. Tasic, the youngest controller on duty, was working his third straight 12-hour day and his assistant was not present. Two other factors were critical in this disaster: The British Trident jet was flying into the sunlight and thus had no opportunity to see the DC-9 directly and Tasic was speaking Croatian to the Inex flight, leaving the English-speaking British pilot in the dark as to what was being said.

The left wing of the Inex DC-9 struck the cockpit of the Trident, killing the British Airways pilots instantly. When the DC-9’s wing broke off, both planes were sent spiraling to the ground. They landed about 4 miles apart, near the town of Vrbovec, 16 miles northeast of Zagreb. All 176 people on the two planes died.

After the ensuing investigation, five air-traffic controllers and two supervisors were charged with criminal negligence. Tasic, however, was the only one ultimately brought to trial. He received a seven-year prison sentence but was later released after an international outcry by air-traffic controllers.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


The guillotine falls silent

At Baumetes Prison in Marseille, France, Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of murder, becomes the last person executed by guillotine. The guillotine first gained fame during the French Revolution when physician and revolutionary Joseph-Ignace Guillotin won passage more

The Battle of Lake Erie

In the first unqualified defeat of a British naval squadron in history, U.S. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry leads a fleet of nine American ships to victory over a squadron of six British warships at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The battle was closely contested for more

Smith to lead Jamestown

English adventurer John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia–the first permanent English settlement in North America. Smith, a colorful figure, had won popularity in the colony because of his organizational abilities and effectiveness in dealing with local more

First drunk driving arrest

On this day in 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi driver named George Smith becomes the first person ever arrested for drunk driving after slamming his cab into a building. Smith later pled guilty and was fined 25 shillings. In the United States, the first laws against operating a more

President Kennedy gets mixed signals

Maj. Gen. Victor Krulak, USMC, Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Joseph Mendenhall of the State Department report to President John F. Kennedy on their fact-finding mission to Vietnam. The president had sent them to more

Rod Laver wins Grand Slam

On this day in 1962, Rod Laver defeats fellow Australian Roy Emerson in four sets to win the U.S. Open. With the victory, Laver became the first man to win the tennis “Grand Slam”–four major tournaments in the same year–since Don Budge in 1938. Having already won the first three more

Serial-killing couple meets

Charlene Williams meets Gerald Gallego at a poker club in Sacramento, California, resulting in one of the worst serial killing teams in American history. Before they were finally caught, the Gallegos killed and sexually assaulted at least 10 people over a two-year period. Within more

Crime boss Salvatore Maranazano is murdered

Crime boss Salvatore Maranzano is shot and stabbed to death in New York City by four men working for Charles “Lucky” Luciano, one of the flashiest figures in organized crime. At one time, Luciano was living at the Waldorf Astoria and taking in over a million dollars a year, while more

Hungary allows East Germans refugees to leave

In a dramatic break with the eastern European communist bloc, Hungary gives permission for thousands of East German refugees to leave Hungary for West Germany. It was the first time one of the Warsaw Pact nations-who were joined in the defensive alliance between Russia and its more