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18th of April 1977

Whether you believe in guardian angels or divine intervention or just luck, on this day in aviation history the crew and passengers of a Douglas DC-8-53 all walked away from what could have been a disaster.

The DC-8, registered RP-C803, started its take-off roll on runway 15L at 15.21 local time for flight PR421 from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Manilla International Airport.

DC-8-53 - RP-C803 in better days

After approximately 1000 meters of the take-off roll, the aircraft rotated prematurely and became airborne. Almost immediately the left wing stalled, causing the aircraft to bank left and the left wingtip to strike the ground. This forced the jet to slam back on to the runway. At this point, the aircraft was out of control and left the paved runway surface of the runway to the left of the runway. When entering the soft ground all gears and engines (JT3D-3B) were ripped of the aircraft. The aeroplane slid out of control for nearly 2500ft before coming to a stop on the runway edge.

The aircraft on the side of the runway

All 127 passengers and 13 crew evacuated the aircraft, 3 of them sustaining injuries during the evacuation.

The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and was subsequently written off and dismantled. The cause of the premature rotation was found during the subsequent investigation. It was determined that a broken bellcrank and an elevator geared tab drive arm failure were the cause of the premature rotation, causing the aircraft to go out of control.

The failed bellcrank and drive arm

As "luck" would have it the failures occurred on the ground, should the failures happened in the air the result would have been far, far worse.

Little detail on the aircraft's history: Two months before the incident, in February of 1977 the aircraft was leased for a short period by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and was operated with KLM titles in Philippine colours.

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