Air Crash Investigation Seconds From Disaster Comet Air Crash
On Sunday 10 January 1954, British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 781, a de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, registered G-ALYP, took off from Ciampino Airport in Rome, Italy, en route to Heathrow Airport in London, England, on the final leg of its flight from Singapore. At about 10:51 GMT, the aircraft suffered an explosive decompression at altitude and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing everyone on board. The accident aircraft was the third Comet built
The flight was captained by Alan Gibson (31), one of BOAC's youngest pilots. He had flown in the Royal Air Force and had been with BOAC since 1946. He had considerable flying experience, having logged more than 6,500 flight hours. He had been involved in a prior accident in 1951 which involved the forced landing of a Hermes aircraft. He had later been praised for his flying conduct on the 1951 accident flight.
The first officer on Flight 781 was William John Bury (33). He had flown a total of approximately 4,900 hours. The engineer officer was Francis Charles Macdonald (27) and the radio officer was Luke Patrick McMahon (32). They had 720 flying hours and close to 3,600 flying hours, respectively.
Of the 29 passengers, 10 were children. Among the casualties were Chester Wilmot, a prominent Australian journalist and military historian working for the BBC, and Dorothy Beecher Baker, a Hand of the Cause of God for the Baha'i Faith
Gerry Bull, a former BOAC engineer, said that when he inspected the aircraft in Rome he looked for "incidental damage". He did not find any, so he believed Flight 781 was fit for flight. Bull and the same team of engineers later examined South African Airways Flight 201 before its final flight.
On 10 January 1954, the flight took off at 09:34 GMT for the final-stage flight to London. At about 09:50 GMT BOAC Argonaut, G-ALHJ piloted by Captain Johnson, which was flying the same route at a lower altitude was in contact with Captain Gibson. During a radio communication about weather conditions, the conversation was abruptly cut off. The last words heard from Captain Gibson were "George How Jig, did you get my -". Soon afterwards wreckage was seen falling into the sea by fishermen.
Heathrow Airport initially listed Flight 781 as being delayed; around 1:30 PM the airport took the flight off the arrivals board