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Crash of Flight 111

Program Overview

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Note: This program contains information that may be upsetting to students. Please preview it to determine its appropriateness for your classroom.

Sketch of dredge lifting airplane parts from ocean NOVA follows the four-and-a-half year, $39 million investigation into why Swissair Flight 111 crashed on September 2, 1998, killing all 229 passengers.

The program:

  • reviews the series of events that led up to the crash of the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 plane in the waters off Nova Scotia.

  • chronicles how scientists used evidence to establish how and why the crash occurred.

  • follows the salvage and sorting of hundreds of thousands of pounds of wreckage—such as metal pieces, wires, burnt rugs, and other airplane debris—from 55 meters (180 feet) below the ocean surface.

  • shows the recovery of the black box and the subsequent finding that it did not record the final six minutes of flight.

  • details the reassembly of the plane in a hangar in Halifax and the creation of a three-dimensional computer model of the aircraft.

  • demonstrates a variety of tests that investigators conducted, including exposing metal to different levels of heat to determine color changes and performing materials flammability tests.

  • shows how investigators came to reconstruct the series of events that led up to the crash—a damaged wire in the entertainment system gave rise to an electrical arc-generated fire that spread out of sight in the plane's attic area.

  • reviews the recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada upon completion of its investigation.

  • notes that the Federal Aviation Administration has given airlines five years to implement the most important recommendation resulting from the investigation—replacing the type of flammable insulation materials found in Swissair Flight 111.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Crash of Flight 111
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