On Sunday, September 24, 1972, Japan Air Lines Flight 472 was a regularly scheduled flight between London and Tokyo with stops in Frankfurt, Rome, Beirut, Tehran, Bombay, Bangkok, and Hong Kong.
The flight departed London Heathrow Airport (LHR) twenty minutes late, and by the time it left Mehrabad International Airport (THR), Tehran, it was an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule.
As the plane was nearing Bombay, the crew planned to make an ILS approach to Santacruz Airport (BOM). When speaking with Bombay Air Traffic Control (ATC), the controller asked the plane if it had a “visual on the runway?” The pilots replied, “yes, we can see it.” With the weather conditions at the time good, the ATC controller asked the pilots to make a VFR approach.
As the plane turned to land the pilots were looking into the sun
Following these instructions, the pilots flew over Runway 09 and, descending, executed a 360-degree turn to approach again from the west when the plane touched down on Runway 8 at Juhu Aerodrome 2.3 miles west of (BOM). Used only by small aircraft, the 3,750-foot runway at Juhu was nowhere near long enough for a four-engine jet like the DC-8.
After deploying the thrust reversers, the captain immediately realized the mistake and activated the spoilers and maximum power to the brakes. With not enough runway left, an overrun was unavoidable. As the plane overshot the runway, both engines on the port wing broke off, damaging the main landing gear, which caused the nose of the aircraft to dive into the ground.
At the time of the mistake, the plane was carrying 108 passengers and 14 crew. Despite the aircraft being damaged beyond repair, only nine passengers and two crew members were injured in the crash.
The Indian authorities blamed pilot error
During its investigation into the accident, the Indian authorities put it down to pilot error but also blamed the fact that there was a small airport operating so close to a significant international airport. Another factor contributing to the plane landing at Juhu was that the 360-degree turn had the flight crew gazing into the sun. When they could see the runway again, it was Juhu they were looking at, not Santacruz.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
It wasn’t the first time that this had happened
While it was a rare event, it wasn’t the first time an aircraft landing at Santacruz mistakenly landed at Juhu. On July 15, 1953, a BOAC DH.106 Comet mistakenly landed at Juhu instead of Santacruz, but in this instance, no damage was done to the plane, allowing it to leave nine days later.
On May 28, 1968, the pilot of a Garuda Indonesia Convair 990 had also mistaken the same Juhu Aerodrome for Santacruz Airport. In this instance, the plane overshot the runway, stopping just short of crossing a busy road and hitting residential buildings. No passengers or crew members aboard the aircraft were injured.
Another airport notorious for mistaken landings is Poznań-Krzesiny military airbase in western Poland. Now home to a squadron of F-16 fighter jets, it is located 8.6 miles from Poznań-Ławica Airport (POZ) and has its runway at a similar angle to the civilian airport.