On 3rd March 1974 a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft owned by Turkish Airlines took off from Orly Airport, Paris, on a journey that originated in Istanbul and was now bound for London Heathrow. On board were 346 people including the 11 crew and there was nothing to suggest that this flight would be any different from the rest. Designated as flight 981, the plane was less than two years old and had so far worked well for her owners.
Some of the more notable people on board were an amateur rugby team from England and Olympic hurdle silver medal winner John Cooper.
What nobody was aware of and could have never imagined was the serious design flaw of the aft cargo door which when in use swings outwards. As the aircraft climbed the pressure increased internally causing enormous strain on the locking pins which had previously been filed down to prevent difficulties for the ground crews.
Just minutes after the aircraft had left the runway the cargo door suffered a catastrophic failure and the resulting pressure release ripped the surrounding area off which included part of the fuselage and several passengers still strapped to their seats.
The airliner was doomed from that moment on. It lost control and nose-dived into the Forest d'Ermenonville outside of the French capital at just under 500 miles per hour.
Rescuers were faced with a horrific task of locating wreckage over a wide area covered in forestry. Body parts were left hanging from the trees and the task of trying to gather together all the wreckage for the forensic investigation was proved extremely hard work. It very soon became apparent that this was not a rescue operation but that of recovery. There were no survivors, making this (at the time) the worlds worst air disaster.
Most of the plane had smashed into small pieces leaving only a few fires which were easily dealt with, but the answer to the cause of the crash came two days later when reports came through that the cargo door and the dead row of passengers in their seats were found in a field. This led investigators straight to the cause, although initial theories had suggested terrorism could have played a part. This was discounted almost straight away.
As the inquiries blamed the cargo door failure, the families of the victims did what they could to remember their loved ones. So many bodies were not identified and many more were just body parts gathered together. The wreckage was removed as best as it could be but the forest would never return to normal after that amount of damage.
Following the cargo door failure, it was redesigned to swing inwards so that any internal pressure would force the door closed instead of force it open. What had started as a space-saving initiative had led to a huge investigation and the deaths of hundreds of people for it to be changed.
The crash has since been the subject of several books and was also featured on the popular TV documentary series Air Crash Investigation.
Today a huge stone memorial stands at the spot where the airliner crashed, it is on a nature trail and visited by people passing through on a daily basis. Looking around you could never dream that something so tragic would have taken place here as the only noise breaking the silence is that of the wind and the nature.
I took a trip to the forest and visited this memorial in August 2019 and found that although 45 years have now passed, pieces of wreckage are still being found and placed at the foot of the memorial. Most of them are unrecognisable but one piece in particular was a broken sign in both English and Turkish from the toilet cubicle. Whoever had found this had placed it separate from the rest as a reminder that these nondescript pieces of metal and wires were once a proud aircraft full of real people. The DC-10 has continued to fly and has proved to be one of the most popular aircraft for carrying both passengers and cargo. But the legacy of the Paris crash will always be the lessons learned from the cargo door failure.
Relatives have left tributes here for the victims of this terrible disaster and with the crash today still being the fifth worst air crash, this will continue to be one of those incidents that will be studied and written about for a very long time.