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29th of January 1971

It is nearly 21.30 local time Trans Australian Airlines Boeing 727-76 (VH-TJA) with 84 passengers and 8 crew was scheduled to fly from Sydney to Perth and was taxiing out to Runway 16. At the same time, a Canadian Pacific Air Lines DC-8-63 (CF-CPQ) was flying an ILS approach Runway 16 at Sydney, after flying from Vancouver, Canada, with a crew of 12 and 136 passengers.

Drawing representing the initial impact (Source ATSB)

With the DC-8 on short finals, the crew of the Boeing 727 called the tower, stating they were ready for take-off. The tower cleared the Boeing 727 to line up after the landing DC-8. When the DC-8 passed the threshold the Boeing 727 lined up on the runway, awaiting their take-off clearance. When the tower controller saw the DC-8 reaching the end of the runway and its landing roll he instructed the aircraft to take the taxiway to the right and change the VHF frequency to 121,7. The DC-8 crew understood they should backtrack and change the VHF frequency to 121.7. They initiated a 180º turn to the right. When the DC-8 was turning, and facing the taxiway the tower controller believed that the crew would exit the runway as per his instructions, he cleared the Boeing 727 for take off. This clearance was not heard by the DC-8 crew as they had changed radiofrequency.

Schematic representation of the incident (source ATSB)

While backtracking the DC-8 captain noticed the Boeing 727 coming towards him, in an attempt to avoid a collision he steers his aircraft off the runway. At the time the nosewheel of the DC-8 reaches the runway edge a jolt is felt, which the DC-8 crew believe is the nose wheels leaving the runway edge. The captain of the DC-8 saw the Boeing 727 rotate and liftoff and believing a collision was avoided steered the DC-8 back to the centreline. The jolt they had felt however was the Boeing 727 slamming into the vertical stabiliser of the DC-8. While continuing the backtrack the crew of the DC-8 saw landing lights in the sky on the approach to runway 16. After contacting the tower the aircraft on the approach was told to go around and the DC-8 was instructed to leave the runway.

The damaged tail of the DC-8 (© John M. Wheatley)

At approximately that time the Boeing 727 contacted the tower and informed them they had struck the DC-8 and lost hydraulic system 'A'. They proceeded to dump fuel and returned to Sydney for an uneventful landing. The crew of the DC-8 were informed that the Boeing 727 had hit them. In absence of any indication of anything being wrong with their aircraft, they continued to their assigned parking position where it was observed that about 1/3 of the tail and rudder were missing. The boeing 727 was found to have serious damage to the belly of the aircraft.

Damage to the Boeing 727 fuselage (left) and the right hand (right) wheel well. (source ATSB)

None of the occupants of the Boeing 727 and the Douglas DC-8 sustained injuries in the incident (although some nerves were probably frayed)

The full report by the Australian Transportation Safety Board is available on the ATSB website by clicking here.

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