Accident Report : Caledonian Airways DC-7C, G-ARUD
4th March 1962
In November 1961, a fledgling Caledonian Airways leased its first aircraft from Sabena, it was a Douglas DC-7C. She was registered G-ARUD and was named “Star of Robbie Burns”.
The aircraft went down into a swamp on the edge of a jungle on take-off from Douala, Cameroon, on March 4th 1962, with the tragic loss of all 111 passengers and crew.
The accident investigation was extremely thorough and was undertaken by the Directorate of Civil Aviation in Cameroon. The inquiry was held in Paris, Cameroon being a French colony at that time.
The highly skilled crew fought to save the passengers and aircraft, but where likely overwhelmed by a mechanical failure.
Here, we will recount the tragic event in some detail. Some of the information is empirical, though, using the original accidents reports, eyewitness accounts and research, I have interpreted these sources to provide what I hope is the most accurate and comprehensive record published of the accident that tragically cost so many their lives.
To the passengers and crew of G-ARUD, their story is not forgotten.
A Summary of the Accident
On 1st March 1962 a Caledonian Airways DC-7C, G-ARUD, started out on a round trip charter flight (Flight CA153 / CA154) from Luxembourg to Luxembourg via:
Lourenco-Marques* (Mozambique) *now Maputo
The charter was reportedly made by the Overseas Visitor's Club.
The flight timetable was as below:-
Luxembourg 01/03/62 Depart 22.12 Hours
Khartoum 02/03/62 Arrive 07.57 Hours
Khartoum 02/03/62 Depart 09:05 Hours
Lourenco- 02/03/62 Arrive 19:05 Hours
Marques 04/04/62 Depart 08:00 Hours
Doula 04/0362 Arrive 16:45 Hours
To the right is a map of Africa, showing the destinations G-ARUD did and was to call at.
Douala Airport in Cameroon had and still has a 2850 metre long runway; this is Runway 12 / 30. G-ARUD was using Runway 12 that night, taking off in a south south-east direction.
The first legs of the flight had passed without incident. After a technical stop at Douala, G-ARUD started engines at 18:02 hours and left the apron at 18:05 hours.
On reaching the end of 2,850 metre runway it waited for around 7 minutes in order to allow an Air Afrique flight to land (DC-4, F-BBDK). The DC-4 landed at 18:13 hours.
G-ARUD then lined up on Runway 12 and was heard to run up its engines up, this was to almost certainly to clear the engines spark plugs after idling for so long, it took off at 18:20 Hours. The Controller saw the aircraft lift off the runway, approximately inline with the Glide Path Transmitter, some 2400 metres after the release of its brakes. The Controller also noticed that the aircraft did not seem to have its landing lights on.
The Controller reported that it seemed to him that the aircraft gained height with difficulty and its anti-collision light was seen at low altitude before disappearing behind trees. The sky was then lit up by a fire.
The aircraft, flying over an area that was in complete darkness, struck a tree on the edge of a jungle with the port wing and left hand side of the fuselage. The first trees were struck at an altitude of 22 metres (72ft) above the threshold of Runway 30.
The aircraft went progressively into a dive onto its port wing over the next 130 metres, before crashing into a creek that runs through the jungle. The aircraft exploded, the distribution of the wreckage was mainly limited by the left bank of the creek, though the tail unit and starboard wing ended up on the right bank.
The creek is a tributary of the River Wouri and has a tidal range of 3 - 4 metres and it was at its high water mark.
Information on DC-7C, G-ARUD
The DC-7C had been purchased new by Sabena in 1957 as OO-SFD, it was later leased out to Persian Air Services as EP-ADU, before being leased to Caledonian Airways and registered as G-ARUD.
Route of G-ARUD
Airframe DC-7C, Serial No. 45,160, Fuselage No. 754
Constructor Douglas Aircraft Company, Santa Monica, California, USA
Manufactured 10th January 1957
Certificate of Registration No. R-7451-I issued 29th November 1961
Certificate of Airworthiness No. E 22,378, issued 18th Jan 1962, expiring 28th Nov 1962
Owner Societe Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aerienne (SABENA)
Operator Caledonian Airways, Mitchell Street, Glasgow.
G-ARUD was operated by Caledonian Airways in accordance with their license; maintenance was carried out by Sabena in accordance with the lease agreement.
The maintenance of the aircraft, including the last general overhaul between 16th - 28th November 1961 was undertaken by SABENA, in accordance with the Caledonian Airways Maintenance schedule, that schedule approved by the Air Registration Board. The work undertaken by SABENA was checked by the Technical Service of the Belgian CAA.
The aircraft had flown a total of 14,548 hours and 2 minutes. Of these 583 hours were undertaken when leased to Caledonian Airways.
The aircraft had been subject to 6 special inspections, prior to being leased to Caledonian Airways, due mainly to some heavy landings. The last being in October 1961 when all 4 main undercarriage tyres were burst in a heavy landing. The aircraft was cleared for flight after each of the inspections.
The four R-3350 engines were made by Wright, Woodridge, New Jersey in the USA.
The engines were all within their allowed maintenance periods, general overhauls being undertaken at a maximum of 1200 hour intervals.
The propeller type was, Dome 34-E-60-395, Blades 7019-B-2, and these were made by Hamilton Standard, based in East Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
The propellers were again within their allowed maximum period between general overhauls, this was 3000 hours.
The Crew of G-ARUD were all experienced aviators and had previously worked for different airlines including BOAC, BKS, Silver City and American Airlines, prior to joining Caledonian Airways.
Captain Arthur Williams - Aircraft Commander
Captain Allen Frost - Co-Pilot
Captain Gerald Walman - Co-Pilot
Francis Strong - Navigator
Thomas McArthur - Flight Engineer
Peter Deane - Flight Engineer
Albert Legg - Flight Engineer
Edith Tiplady - Senior Stewardess
Elizabeth Barrie - Stewardess
Ruth McPherson - Stewardess
The Inquiry was unable to establish exactly who was piloting the aircraft that evening as the controller’s radio traffic was not recorded at Douala. Though the Inquiry assumed that Captain Williams was in the Co-Pilot's seat, Captain Frost was in the Pilot's seat, Flight Engineer McArthur was at the Engineers Position and Francis Strong was navigating.
The Inquiry's assumption on crew seating was based on the fact that Captain Frost was undertaking a routine Route Qualification flight under Captain Williams. F/E McArthur was the most experienced engineer and due to the night take-off, with a heavy load, the Inquiry assumed he was in the cockpit. The Inquiry established that all Crew held valid licenses and qualifications to operate the aircraft and that they had the average experience of a 4-engined aircraft crew at the time.
The weather conditions at Douala Aerodrome that evening at 18:20hours, when the aircraft took off were:-
Temperature : 28.8 Celsius
Humidity : 79%
Wind : 5 Knots / 260 degrees
Visibility : 15 Kilometres
Cloudiness : 400 metres 3/8 Fc, 600m 2/8 S/c, 1500m 2/8 Cb (southwest) and 4000m 7/8 Ac and As
The terms are: Fc Funnel cloud, Sc Stratocumulus, Cb Cumulonimbus, Ac Altocumulus, As Altostratus
The Tower observed that there were Thunderstorms happening to the South South-East / South of the aerodrome.
Also scattered drops of rain were seen and it was a moonless night. Sunset was at 17.35 hours and there were 21 minutes of twilight that evening, after that it was dark.
The arriving Air Afrique DC-4, which landed at 18:13 hours, reported that there was significant cumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm clouds) and heavy static in the south west, though the aerodrome was clear.
Below is a drawing of a DC-7C showing the engine layout and position of important parts of the aircraft for the following sections.