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Varig Flight 820
Accident summary
Date 11 July 1973
Type Fire
Site near Orly, France
Passengers 117
Crew 17
Injuries 11
Fatalities 123
Survivors 11
Aircraft type Boeing 707
Operator Varig
Tail number PP-VJZ

Varig Flight 820 was a scheduled airline service from Galeão Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Orly Airport, Paris, France. On 11 July 1973, the Boeing 707 made an emergency landing in a field in the Orly commune due to smoke in the cabin. The fire, smoke, and crash at the final part of the landing resulted in 123 deaths, with 11 survivors (10 crew, 1 passenger).

Flight 820's problems began when a fire started in a rear lavatory. Crew members tried to contain the fire and smoke, but were unable to find the source of the problem. The captain of the airliner had reported malfunctioning of the engines and radioed the Orly control tower for emergency landing clearance. Soon after his message, "Fire on board," he asked for permission to crash-land and a runway was urgently cleared, but the plane went down in a field at 3:15 p.m., about 15 minutes after the trouble was first announced.

According to witnesses, it skidded about 500 yards (457 m) across rows of onions, lettuce and beets, spun around and came to rest about 200 yards (183 m) from the nearest dwellings in a heavily populated Paris suburb. The plane landed in an onion patch, narrowly missing the village of Saulx-les-Chartreux. Its engines and wingtips ripped off on impact. Smoke poured from the wreckage of the silver and blue plane. Its tail lilted crazily and one engine lay near the rear. A twisted escape slide spilled out of the side and the landing gear was a crumped wreck.

According to witnesses, the fuselage looked like a broken lobster, smoking hours after the crash as firemen pried out charred bodies, carrying them to stretchers and covering them. Prior to the forced landing, however, many of the passengers had already died of smoke inhalation.

Only one passenger survived, while the major part of the crew left the plane by the emergency exit at the top of the cockpit. The pilot of this flight disappeared 30 January 1979 while flying a Varig Cargo 707 over the Pacific Ocean.

As a possible cause of the fire was that the lavatory waste bin contents caught fire after a still lit cigarette was thrown into it, the FAA issued AD 74-08-09 requiring "installation of placards prohibiting smoking in the lavatory and disposal of cigarettes in the lavatory waste receptacles; establishment of a procedure to announce to airplane occupants that smoking is prohibited in the lavatories; installation of ashtrays at certain locations; and repetitive inspections to ensure that lavatory waste receptacle doors operate correctly".

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