Air France Boeing 707 Crashes on the Island of Guadeloupe – 6/22/1962

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Around the 60s, the commercial-aviation industry had exploded, and Boeing 707 became popular. The plane had been built as a modification of the KC-135 military tanker and bomber. It’s design had been changed to enable it to carry passengers, and it became common a favorite among flying patrons. Compared to most commercial jets, the 707 was faster even though it required more fuel. 

Guadeloupe Island is a small area in the Caribbean and is part of the French West Indies. The Guadeloupe airport is located in a valley surrounded by mountains and pilots mostly hate the steep descent that is required for landing. Guadeloupe is 80 miles north of Martinique and 300 miles southeast of San Juan.

On June 22, 1962, an Air France Boeing 707 flight failed to descend and crashed directly into a peak called Dos D’ Ane, or the Donkey’s Back. The plane exploded into a fireball and killed all its 113 occupants, including four babies, seven children, and ten crew members who were on board.

On take-off from Paris, the plane was reported to carry ten crew members and 12 passengers, but after making a stop at Lisbon, several passengers boarded while others left. During that year, the crash was only among five other major accidents that had involved the Boeing 707s. In total, the 457 people had lost their lives in five crashes

Search crews who were assigned to work on the wreckage reported that the plane, Flight 117 named Chateau de Chantilly, had exploded on impact with a hill and that the debris had burned and was scattered over nearly a mile. The $5.5 million aircraft was headed to Santiago, Chile, from Paris. According to the U.S Coast Guard, the plane had been cleared by the control center at Pointe-a-Pitre airport, but its radio went off.

According to the coast guard, a small local plane spotted the wreckage more than two miles inland from the north coast of Guadeloupe. According to James Welsh, who had flown his private plane over the wreckage, there was nothing left of the aircraft. “It was a terrible sight. Wreckage seem to be scattered over the whole mountain.” He said. Immediately after the crash, French helicopters were dispatched from Martinique, and Guadeloupe police launched their rescue crews.

It was reported that the accident occurred around 3:25 am as the plane was due to land at Guadeloupe from the Azores. Once the authorities received distressed calls that the airline was in trouble, naval vessels were asked to proceed to the area. A patrol boat and two coast guard amphibious planes were also dispatched from San Juan. 

According to Air France, the pilot, Captain Andre Lesieur, had reported torrential rains and a low cloud ceiling as the aircraft approached the airport. It was reported that Captain Lesieur had attempted to visually land the plane rather than relying on radio instrument guidance. The pilot was one of Air France’s most experienced pilots, and he had even flown President Charles de Gaulle.

The crash had occurred before the discovery of the black box and the reason behind the accident was never discovered. The accident was the third deadly crash- in a month- involving a 707. Before the June 22 disaster, 45 people had lost their lives in Missouri on May 22, after their plane crashed. Another Air France 707 had crashed on June 3, killing 130 people. 

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