Air India: the crashes on Mont Blanc

ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Jules Vogt, CC BY-SA 3.0

Seventy-two years ago, on November 3, 1950, Air India Flight 245 was cruising over the Alps with 40 passengers and eight crew on board. 

The aircraft was a Lockheed L-749A Constellation named ‘Malabar Princess’. It was routing from Bombay to London with stops at Cairo and Geneva. 

A mysterious box of jewels, old newspapers and other wreckage was found on the crash site, some of it as recently as 2020. 

Around mid-morning, the crew began their descent into Geneva Airport. At 10.43am, the plane collided with Mont Blanc, crashing near the Rocher de la Tourette at a height of around 4,677 m. 

The impact with the terrain killed all 48 persons on board, with search and rescue finding the wreckage two days later on November 5.

The aircraft was a Lockheed L-749A Constellation named ‘Malabar P

Air India International Lockheed L-749A Constellation. Image: Swissair, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is believed that the crew misinterpreted their position which was accompanied with unfavorable winds.

Tragically, 16 years later, on the morning of January 24, 1966, Air India Flight 101, a Boeing 707 carrying 106 passengers and 11 crew, crashed in almost exactly the same spot on Mont Blanc.

Flight 101 was scheduled to fly from Bombay to London, stopping at Delhi, Beirut and Geneva. 

The subsequent investigation found that the pilots mistakenly thought they had passed the Mont Blanc ridge and began descending in accordance with the ATC instruction. 

The miscalculation of the aircraft position was attributed to one of the VOR receivers on board being unserviceable and giving an unreliable position fix of the aircraft. 

Air India Boeing 707

Image: Steve Fitzgerald.

Owing to the climate and remote terrain of the two crash sites, much of the wreckage remains, with items found as recently as 2020. 

Wreckage and belongings found included an engine from the Boeing 707 as well as newspapers dated January 23, 1966, which were discovered in July 2020.

In 2013, a mountaineer scaling Mont Blanc found a metal box containing rubies, sapphires and emeralds which were valued at more than €245,000, thought to have been from one of the two flights. 

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