Arrow Air Flight 1285: Wikis


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Arrow Air Flight 1285

DC-8 aircraft similar to that of Flight 1285[1]
Accident summary
Date December 12, 1985
Type Icing (explosion per minority report)
Site Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador
Passengers 248
Crew 8
Injuries 0
Fatalities 256
Survivors 0
Aircraft type McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63CF
Operator Arrow Air
Tail number N950JW
Flight origin Cairo International Airport
Stopover Cologne
Last stopover Gander International Airport
Destination Fort Campbell

Arrow Air Flight 1285 was a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63CF jetliner, registered N950JW, which operated as an international charter flight carrying U.S. troops from Cairo, Egypt to their home base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, via Cologne, Germany and Gander, Newfoundland. On the morning of December 12, 1985, shortly after takeoff from Gander en route to Fort Campbell, the aircraft stalled, crashed and burned about half a mile from the runway, killing all 256 passengers and crew on board.[2]

The accident was investigated by the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) which determined the probable cause of the crash was the aircraft's unexpectedly high drag and reduced lift condition, which most likely was due to ice contamination on the wings' leading edges and upper surfaces.[3] A minority report stated that the accident could have been caused by an on board explosion of unknown origin prior to impact.[4]


Flight history

The aircraft was chartered to carry U.S. servicemen, mostly members of the 101st Airborne Division, United States Army, from a six-month stay in the Sinai, where they had served in the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping force, back to their base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The four-engine turbofan aircraft departed Cairo on December 11, 1985 at 20:35 UTC, headed to Fort Campbell via Cologne and Gander.

The aircraft landed at Gander International Airport early in the morning of December 12 at 0905 UTC, where it was refueled and serviced.

Crash sequence

Mortar shells found in the wreckage at the crash site

The DC-8 began its take-off roll on runway 22 from the intersection of runway 13 at 06:45 NST/10:15 UTC.[5] It rotated near taxiway "A", 51 seconds after brake release at an airspeed of about 167 KIAS. The aircraft had difficulty gaining altitude after rotation; the airspeed reached 172 KIAS and began to decrease again, causing the DC-8 to descend. After crossing the Trans-Canada Highway at a very low altitude, the pitch angle increased, but the aircraft continued to descend until it struck down-sloping terrain just short of Gander Lake, and crashed approximately 3,000 feet beyond the departure end of the runway. The aircraft broke up and burst into flames, starting a fire that burned for four hours.[2]


Wreckage in a hangar at Gander

The Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) investigated the crash, and, under the signature of five of nine board members, found that during its approach toward Gander, precipitation conditions were favorable for the formation of ice on the aircraft's wings. After landing, it continued to be exposed to "freezing and frozen precipitation capable of producing roughening on the wing upper surface" in addition to the freezing temperature. They also found that prior to takeoff the aircraft had not been de-iced.[6] The Board issued the following Probable Cause statement in its final report:[2][3]

The Canadian Aviation Safety Board was unable to determine the exact sequence of events which led to this accident. The Board believes, however, that the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that, shortly after lift-off, the aircraft experienced an increase in drag and reduction in lift which resulted in a stall at low altitude from which recovery was not possible. The most probable cause of the stall was determined to be ice contamination on the leading edge and upper surface of the wing. Other possible factors such as a loss of thrust from the number four engine and inappropriate take-off reference speeds may have compounded the effects of the contamination.

Four members of the CASB dissented, issuing a minority opinion asserting that there was no evidence presented proving that ice had been present on leading edges such as the wings, and the minority report speculated that:[4]

An in-flight fire that may have resulted from detonations of undetermined origin brought about catastrophic system failures.


Caskets being carried in for a memorial service at Dover AFB on December 16 1985

On the day of the crash, responsibility was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a wing of Hezbollah.

The claim was dismissed by the Canadian and U.S. governments soon afterward. According to United Press International "Hours after the crash the Islamic Jihad - a Shiite Muslim extremist group - claimed it destroyed the plane to prove our ability to strike at the Americans anywhere." Pentagon and Canadian government officials rejected the claim, made by an anonymous caller to a French news agency in Beirut.[7]

Arrow Air Flight 1285 memorial at Ft. Campbell
"Silent Witness" Arrow Air Flight 1285 memorial at Gander Lake
Interpretive sign at Arrow Air Flight 1285 memorial at Gander Lake

256 people died including 248 U.S. servicemen and 8 crew members. As of 2009, that death toll constituted the deadliest plane crash in Canada.[8]

Of the 248 servicemen, all but twelve were members of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), most of whom were from the 3d Battalion, 502d Infantry; eleven were from other Forces Command units; and one was an agent from the Criminal Investigations Command (CID).[9]

A memorial to the 256 victims at the crash site overlooks Gander Lake, and another memorial was erected at Fort Campbell.

See also


External links

Coordinates: 48°54′43″N 54°34′27″W / 48.91194°N 54.57417°W / 48.91194; -54.57417



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