On Friday May 5, 1972, Alitalia flight number 112 crashed into Mount Longa in Sicily, Italy, killing 108 passengers and seven crew, becoming Italy’s deadliest air disaster. The aircraft, an 11-year-old Douglas DC-8-43, named “Antonio Pigafetta”, was on a scheduled flight from Rome Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO) to Palermo International Airport (PMO) in Palermo, in Sicily.
The flight from Rome to Palermo takes just over an hour. Image: GCmaps
Captain Roberto Bartoli contacted Palermo air traffic control at 9.10 p.m. when the plane was still 74 nautical miles from the airport. At around 10:20 p.m., three miles from the airport, the plane crashed 300 feet below the summit of Mount Longa while sliding down the side of the mountain before breaking up.
Some people thought the plane was on fire before the crash
Witnesses from the nearby town of Carini said they believed the plane caught fire before crashing. Most of the 108 passengers were Sicilians returning from Rome to Scilly to be able to vote in the upcoming Italian national elections. Among the Italian passengers on the flight were director Franco Indovina and Cestmir Vycpalek, the son of the former coach of the Juventus football team in Turin. The only foreigners believed to be on board the flight were a Belgian hostess, a French couple and three people from the UK.
The crash was blamed on pilot error
After an investigation into the accident, it was determined that it happened because the pilots did not follow instructions from the ground controller. The flight was labeled as pilot error and flight out of control (CFIT).
However, some of the victims’ relatives did not believe the official account of what happened. A sister of one of the victims, Maria Eleonora Fais, discovered after several years a report by Vice Chief of Police Giuseppe Peri suggesting that a bomb had exploded on board the plane.
Peri accused a right-wing subversive group of planting the bomb after being aided by the mafia. At the time of the crash, the political mood in Italy was turning to the right, with right-wing parties expecting good results in the election. The National Association of Italian Pilots (ANPAC) also sided with their deceased colleague, refusing to believe that they had made any mistakes.
Coincidentally, the accident happened on the anniversary of Alitalia’s very first passenger flight in 1947, when a Fiat G.12 Alcione, piloted by Virginio Reinero, flew from Turin to Catania and then to Rome.
The Linate airport disaster
Italy’s deadliest aircraft occurred at Milan Linate Airport (LIN) on Monday October 8, 2001. Known as the ‘Linate Airport Disaster’, a McDonnell Douglas MD-87 of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) collided on takeoff with a Cessna Citation CJ2 business jet. SAS flight number 686 took off in heavy fog for Copenhagen as the Cessna headed for Paris.
After getting lost in the fog, the Cessna had strayed onto the runway just as the MD-87 was taking off. All 114 passengers and crew were killed in the SAS aircraft, with the two pilots and two passengers of the Cessna suffering the same fate. The MD-11 flew briefly before crashing into a baggage handling facility, killing four ground workers. The Linate airport disaster remains Italy’s deadliest aviation accident.
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