Crash of Flight 111

On the evening of September 2, 1998, a Swissair MD-11 jet bound from New York to Geneva diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after the crew smelled smoke in the cockpit. Just minutes from the airport, Flight 111 plunged into the ocean, killing all 229 people aboard. “Crash of Flight 111″ tells the behind-the-scenes story of the quest for the cause of this tragic accident.

NOVA was given unprecedented access to one of the most intricate aviation investigations ever mounted, which cost $39 million, took more than four years, and involved a seemingly hopeless search for evidence among two million pieces of debris scattered across the seafloor. Through painstaking detective work, investigators eventually pinned the cause of the accident to a chain of events set off by conditions that still exist on many planes today.

After what appeared to be a minor smoke problem developed aboard Flight 111, the pilots headed for the nearest airport, Halifax International, for a nonemergency landing. On approach, they decided it would be safer if they first dumped fuel over the ocean in order to lighten the aircraft.

Matters grew rapidly worse. As the plane turned away from the airport, the autopilot mysteriously disconnected. Then something apparently catastrophic happened that caused both pilots simultaneously to declare an emergency. Seconds later controllers lost contact with the plane. Six minutes after that, residents along St. Margaret’s Bay near Peggy’s Cove heard Flight 111 hit the water and disintegrate.

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