Arrow Air Flight 1285 Crash Sparks Controversy

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 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.

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. A minority report stated that the accident could have been caused by an on board explosion of unknown origin prior to impact.

On the morning of 12 December 1985, at 0645 local time (0515 EST), Arrow Airlines flight 1285, a DC-8-63 charter carrying 248 passengers and a crew of eight, crashed just after takeoff from Gander International Airport, Gander, Newfoundland. All on board perished. The postcrash fire, fed by the contents of the stricken aircraft's full fuel tanks, took local firefighters nearly four hours to bring under control and approximately thirty hours to completely extinguish. The firefighters were hampered in their efforts because of the rugged terrain, which initially prevented more than one fire truck at a time from being used.

The passengers on the ill-fated charter were U.S. soldiers. 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 a CID agent from the Criminal Investigations Command. They were returning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home station of the 101st Airborne Division, after completing a six-month tour of duty in the Sinai with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). This international peacekeeping organization, made up of contingents from ten nations, had been established under terms of a protocol between Egypt and Israel signed on 3 August 1981. The MFO has had the mission of implementing security provisions contained in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Perhaps no other event in its peacetime history has so wrenched the soul and torn at the heart of the U.S. Army as the Gander tragedy, which ranked as the worst military air disaster in the nation's history. But in spite of its grief, the Army moved quickly in responding to the tragedy.

Last week, in another Christmas season, 245 men and three women of the 101st made noncombat history in a tragic way. They, along with eight civilian crew members, were killed in the worst military air disaster ever. Headed home for the holidays to Fort Campbell, Ky., after six months of multinational peacekeeping duties in the hot winds of the Sinai Peninsula, the troopers died in the bleak brush and deep chill of Newfoundland when their chartered DC-8 jet failed to sustain its takeoff from Gander International Airport. The blue- and-white plane rose less than 1,000 ft., then smashed, tail first, into a small hill, disintegrating in flames about a half-mile from the end of the runway.