Panel Links Faulty Wiring to '98
Crash of Swiss Jet
Fri Mar 28, 6:47 PM ET
||;But not the
IFEN (they claim)
Nova Scotia, March 27 — Canadian investigators have
concluded that the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111, in
which all 229 people on board were killed, was caused by
sparks from faulty wiring that ignited flammable
insulation above the cockpit, crippling the aircraft's
A report released today by the Transportation Board
of Canada stopped short of blaming any single factor for
causing the fire that doomed Flight 111 within an hour
after the plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11, took off for
Switzerland from New York's Kennedy International
But the report strongly suggested that a hastily
installed entertainment system that provided games for
passengers in first class and business class was
probably at least partly to blame for starting the fire,
perhaps by overloading the aircraft's inadequate
The 338-page report is likely to spur international
airlines and regulators to improve wiring and
maintenance and inspection standards, remove flammable
insulation that remains in many aircraft and upgrade
fire detection systems in cockpits.
A haunting description of a disastrous but
preventable chain of events that began with a spark
emerges from the otherwise technical report.
Sparks from chipped or otherwise defective wiring
ignited a small creeping flame that gathered strength as
it burned through the thermal-acoustic insulation
blankets above the cockpit ceiling. No electronic
warnings alerted the pilot and crew of the blaze before
it burned through flammable foam material at the top of
the cockpit's rear wall, causing the fire to gather
fatal momentum. The report found no fault with the
The aircraft crashed nose first at a steep angle into
the chilled waters off Nova Scotia just 20 minutes after
the pilot first smelled the fire.
"There was no requirement to have smoke or fire
detectors above the cockpit," Vic Gerden, the
investigator in charge, said at a news conference. "Such
detectors could have provided critical information to
Mr. Gerden emphasized that the accident would never
have happened if it had not been for the insulation
blankets made out of metalized polyethylene
terephthalate, or MPET, which he said were "readily
ignitable" from sparks created by power passing through
"It is important to emphasize here that without the
presence of this and other flammable material, this
accident would not have happened," he said.
Since the Swissair accident, the Federal Aviation
Administration ordered that the MPET insulation blankets
be removed from all aircraft registered in the United
But the Canadian investigators said the aviation
industry and regulators must go further to remove
flammable materials from aircraft, and their report
recommends that international regulators order the
airline industry to install fire detection systems in
cockpits and stiffen testing for wiring.
The investigation was the most extensive ever in
Canada for an air disaster, taking four years and
costing $40 million. More than two million pieces of the
shattered aircraft were retrieved and 150 miles of
electrical wire inspected.
Although the report determined exactly where the fire
began — on the right side of the cockpit, a short
distance in front of the rear wall — it did not
conclusively pinpoint what ignited the initial spark.
Wire damage believed to be part of the initial
ignition was found on one of the wires that supplied
power to the in-flight entertainment system, which
included video and gambling games and movies. But Mr.
Gerden said that "it's important to emphasize here that
it is unlikely that this entertainment system power
supply wire was the only wire involved" in the ignition.
"We strongly suspect," he said, "that at least one
other wire was involved, either an aircraft wire, or
another entertainment system wire."
Swissair, which is now bankrupt, removed the gaming
system, created by Interactive Flight Technologies, from
all its aircraft after the crash.
Many family members of the victims have said they
believe that the entertainment system was at fault for
the crash, and that American regulators should never
have approved the system.
"There is a lack of individual and corporate
responsibility," said Mark Fetherolf, of Palm Beach,
Fla., whose daughter was on Flight 111. "There also
remains deep concern whether the recommendations of the
report are adopted enthusiastically by the industry and