Air India Flight 855
Boeing 747-237B, Air-India AN0574902.jpg
VT-EBD, the aircraft involved, seen at Paris Orly Airport in 1976
Date1 January 1978 (1978-01-01)
SummaryCrashed into the sea following instrument failure and loss of control
SiteArabian Sea, 3 Km (1.9 mls) West of Santacruz Airport, Bombay, India
18°58′30″N 72°09′33″E / 18.975°N 72.1592°E / 18.975; 72.1592
Aircraft typeBoeing 747-237B
Aircraft nameEmperor Ashoka
OperatorAir India
Call signAIR INDIA 855
Flight originSantacruz Airport
Bombay, India
DestinationDubai International Airport
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Air India Flight 855 was a scheduled passenger flight from Bombay (now Mumbai), India, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On 1 January 1978, the Boeing 747 operating the flight crashed about 3 km (1.9 mi; 1.6 nmi) off the coast of Bandra, less than two minutes after take-off. All 213 passengers and crew on board died. An investigation into the crash determined the most likely probable cause was the captain becoming spatially disoriented and losing control of the aircraft after the failure of one of the flight instruments. It was Air India's deadliest aircraft crash until the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985.[1][2]

Aircraft and crew

The aircraft involved was a Boeing 747-237B,[note 1] registration VT-EBD, named Emperor Ashoka. It was the first 747 delivered to Air India, in April 1971.[3][4]

The flight crew consisted of the following persons:

History of the flight

The aircraft departed from Bombay's Santa Cruz Airport (later Sahar Airport, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport). The destination was Dubai International Airport in Dubai.[1][6]

Approximately one minute after takeoff from runway 27, Captain Kukar made a scheduled right turn upon crossing the Bombay coastline over the Arabian Sea, after which the aircraft briefly returned to a normal level position. Soon it began rolling to the left, and never regained level flight.[7][8]

The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage revealed that Captain Kukar was the first to notice a problem, when he said, "What's happened here, my instruments ..." The captain was explaining that his attitude indicator (AI) had "toppled", meaning that it was still showing the aircraft in a right bank. First Officer Virmani, whose presumably functional AI was now showing a left bank (and not noticing the captain's concern), said, "Mine has also toppled, looks fine." It is believed that the Captain mistakenly took this to mean that both primary AIs were indicating a right bank, in effect confirming what he believed he was seeing. It was after sunset and the aircraft was flying over a dark Arabian Sea, leaving the aircrew unable to visually cross-check their AI instrument readings with the actual horizon outside the cockpit windows.[1][9][additional citation(s) needed]

The Boeing 747 had a third backup AI in the center instrument panel between the two pilots, and the transcripts of the cockpit conversation showed Flight Engineer Faria telling the captain, "Don't go by that one, don't go by that one..." trying to direct his attention towards that third AI, or perhaps to another instrument called the turn and bank indicator, just five seconds before the aircraft impacted the sea.[10]

The captain's mistaken perception of the aircraft's attitude resulted in him using the aircraft flight control system to add more left bank and left rudder, causing the Boeing 747 to roll further left into a bank of 108 degrees and rapidly lose altitude. Just 101 seconds after leaving the runway, the jet hit the Arabian Sea at an estimated 35-degree nose-down angle. There were no survivors among the 190 passengers and 23 crew members.[1][11]


The partially recovered wreckage revealed no evidence of explosion, fire, or any electrical or mechanical failure; and an initial theory of sabotage was ruled out.[12]

The investigation concluded that the probable cause was "due to the irrational control inputs by the captain following complete unawareness of the attitude as his AI had malfunctioned. The crew failed to gain control based on the other flight instruments."[13][14][15]

US Federal District Judge James M. Fitzgerald, in a 139-page decision issued 1 November 1985, rejected charges of negligence against the Boeing Company, Lear Siegler Inc, the manufacturer of the attitude director indicator, and the Collins Radio division of Rockwell International, which manufactured the backup system in a suit related to the crash. Steven C. Marshall, the attorney for Boeing asserted that the crash had been caused by Captain Madan Kukar, who he said was "flying illegally under the influence of diabetic drugs, a condition compounded by his alcoholic intake and dieting in the 24 hours before the flight," and not due to equipment malfunctions. The suit was dismissed in 1986.[6][16][17]

See also


  1. ^ The aircraft was a Boeing 747-200B model; Boeing assigns a unique code for each company that buys one of its aircraft, which is applied as a suffix to the model number at the time the aircraft is built, hence "747-237B" for a Boeing 747-200B built for Air India.


  1. ^ a b c d Accident description for VT-EBD at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ Accident description for HZ-AIH at the Aviation Safety Network
  3. ^ "VT-EBD Air India Boeing 747-200". Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  4. ^ "Air India VT-EBD (Boeing 747 - MSN 19959)". Airfleets aviation. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Bandra needs to remember 40 years of the 'Bandstand Air Crash'". Issuu. 8 April 2017. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Air India jet crashes just after takeoff". Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  7. ^ "213 Feared Dead as Jet Hits Sea Off Bombay". The Washington Post. 2 January 1978. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  8. ^ "India jet disintegrates, 213 dead". United Press International. 2 January 1978. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  9. ^ "Crash of a Boeing 747-237B off Mumbai: 213 killed". Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Archived from the original on 22 June 2019. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  10. ^ Witkin, Richard (30 June 1982). "FAULTY INSTRUMENT BLAMED FOR '78 AIR INDIA CRASH (Published 1982)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Spine Chilling Story Of The Air India Flight That Crashed Within Minutes Of Take Off". Procaffenation. 9 July 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  12. ^ Johari, Aarefa. "New Year's Day tragedy: A Mumbai resident's quest to mark the Emperor Ashoka air crash, 40 years on". Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  13. ^ The MAC Flyer. The Command. 1980.
  14. ^ Santhanam, Raju. "Air-India Boeing 747 crash leaves 213 passengers dead, foul play suspected". India Today. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Sensory Illusions, a Case Study: Air India Flight 855". 10 September 2021.
  16. ^ "Theory on Air India Crash Backed by a Pilot". The New York Times. 21 April 1985. ISSN 0362-4331.
  17. ^ Witkin, Richard (1 November 1985). "JUDGE CLEARS BOEING IN CRASH THAT KILLED 213 (Published 1985)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 November 2020.

Further reading