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MD11, en-route, Atlantic Ocean near Halifax Canada, 1998

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On 2 September 1998, an MD-11 aircraft belonging to Swissair, crashed into the sea off Nova Scotia following an in-flight electrical fire.
Event Details
When September 1998
Actual or Potential
Event Type
Airworthiness, Fire Smoke and Fumes, Loss of Control
Day/Night Night
Flight Conditions IMC
Flight Details
Operator Swissair
Domicile Switzerland
Type of Flight Public Transport (Passenger)
Origin New York/John F Kennedy International Airport
Intended Destination Geneva Cointrin International Airport
Take off Commenced Yes
Flight Airborne Yes
Flight Completed No
Flight Phase Cruise
Location En-Route
Origin New York/John F Kennedy International Airport
Destination Geneva Cointrin International Airport
Approx. Atlantic Ocean, off Nova Scotia coast, Canada
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Tag(s) Inadequate Airworthiness Procedures,
Ineffective Regulatory Oversight
Tag(s) Fire-Electrical origin
Tag(s) Significant Systems or Systems Control Failure
Tag(s) PAN declaration,
“Emergency” declaration
Tag(s) Cabin furnishings fire
IFE fire
Cabin air contamination
System(s) Electrical Power
Contributor(s) OEM Design fault
Damage or injury Yes
Aircraft damage Hull loss
Fatalities Most or all occupants ()
Causal Factor Group(s)
Group(s) Aircraft Technical
Safety Recommendation(s)
Group(s) Aircraft Airworthiness
Investigation Type
Type Independent

In-Flight Fire Accident


On 2 September 1998, an MD-11 aircraft belonging to Swissair, crashed into the sea off Nova Scotia following an in-flight electrical fire.

In-Flight Fire

Fire in the air is one of the most hazardous situations that a flight crew can be faced with. Without aggressive intervention by the flight crew, a fire on board an aircraft can lead to the catastrophic loss of that aircraft within a very short space of time. Once a fire has become established, it is unlikely that the crew will be able to extinguish it. For further information, see the main article Fire in the Air


This is the synopsis of the official report into the accident published by the Transport Safety Board (TSB) (Canada):

"On 2 September 1998, Swissair Flight 111 departed New York, United States of America, at 2018 eastern daylight savings time on a scheduled flight to Geneva, Switzerland, with 215 passengers and 14 crew members on board. About 53 minutes after departure, while cruising at flight level 330, the flight crew smelled an abnormal odour in the cockpit. Their attention was then drawn to an unspecified area behind and above them and they began to investigate the source. Whatever they saw initially was shortly thereafter no longer perceived to be visible. They agreed that the origin of the anomaly was the air conditioning system. When they assessed that what they had seen or were now seeing was definitely smoke, they decided to divert. They initially began a turn toward Boston; however, when air traffic services mentioned Halifax, Nova Scotia, as an alternative airport, they changed the destination to the Halifax International Airport. While the flight crew was preparing for the landing in Halifax, they were unaware that a fire was spreading above the ceiling in the front area of the aircraft. About 13 minutes after the abnormal odour was detected, the aircraft's flight data recorder began to record a rapid succession of aircraft systems-related failures. The flight crew declared an emergency and indicated a need to land immediately. About one minute later, radio communications and secondary radar contact with the aircraft were lost, and the flight recorders stopped functioning. About five and one-half minutes later, the aircraft crashed into the ocean about five nautical miles southwest of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada. The aircraft was destroyed and there were no survivors."

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Further Reading

For further information: