Middle East Airlines (MEA) OD-AEM – 17. April 1964

Date  17.   April 1964
Location Dharan,   Saudi Arabia
C/N 23
Model  Caravelle   III
Airline MEA   (Middle East Airlines)
Registration OD-ADM
Occupants  6/6 + 43/43
Aircraft history OD-AEM c/n 23 was originally build for Air France as   F-BHTJ and named “Champagne”. It made her first flight on January   18th 1960 and was delivered to Air France on February 9th 1960. After being   converted to series III standards in 1961 it was leased to Middle East   Airlines on January 20th 1964.
Accident description MEA flight 444 took of from Beirut at 18:09 local   time for a flight to Dhaharan. As this flight was a good connection with   flights arriving from the United States 23 passengers were Americans flying   to the head of the oil-company ARAMCO. The airliner was carrying 49   passengers including 7 crew members. There was a strong sand-storm over   Dhaharan with speeds up to 40 knots and visibilities less than 100m. But when   flight 444 commenced its decent the storm had moved north. Flight 444 was on   a heading of 144° and was passing Dhahran NDB. It was planned to make a left   turn to heading 344° to intercept the ILS (Instrument Landing System). Both   Bharain and Dhahran did not posses of a radar so that it was not possible to   track the aircraft’s flight path. At 20:26 the crew advised the controller   that they were passing the Dhahran NDB in 2 minutes. The crew then contacted   Dharhan approach and continued its approach. At 20:28 local time the aircraft   was passing flight level 50 and one minute later the plane was turning left   to intercept the ILS. OD-AEM was cleared to land and the controller asked the   crew to call him when they had the runway in sight. Instead of a confirmation   the controller heared a loud sound at 20:32. It was evident that the plane   was lost in the sea on the 10 mile final. All 49 occupants were killed. The   investigation team recovered 95% of the wreckage but the cause of this   terrible accident was and is a miracle. All systems were in perfect condition   and working properly. The Caravelle had its landing gear extended and flaps   set to landing when it struck the sea while making a right turn. Even the   flight instruments were set correctly and all passengers were fastened. There   was no evidence that the plane was lost due to a bomb explosion or something   similar. As OD-AEM was not equipped with a flight data recorder either with a   cockpit voice recorder the cause of the accident could never be determined.   It is very likely that there was another confusion ! The pilot in command   mixed up the airspeed indicator and the altimeter. This sounds absurd but we   have to take a closer look at the Caravelle that was involved in this   accident. The ill-fated Caravelle was a series 3 and leased from Air France.   The other Caravelles MEA operated were Caravelle VIN. There are only minor   differences in the cockpit but the position of the airspeed indicator in the   Caravelle 3 is the same as the altimeter in the Caravelle VIN. So it is   probable that the pilot in command was looking on the airspeed indicator   thinking he was looking at the airplanes altitude. Several tests were made   showing that an indicated airspeed in Caravelle 3 of 160 knots was similar   with a Caravelle VIN at 1600ft. The Speed indicator and altimeter look very   much the same. The pilot in command had 235 hours on the Caravelle VIN and   only 10 on the series III. The copilot had 29 on the series III and 41 on the   VIN. But this theory is also very unlikely as the copilot and the captain   were known as very pedantic persons. Particularly the copilot always advised   the captain in case of loss of altitude. The cause of the accident could not be determined.