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BOAC 911 – The plane crash that almost killed the Bond series

It is probably the worst scenario in modern traffic – a fatal plane crash. In 1966, the crash of BOAC flight 911 almost led to the death of legendary Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman as well as production designer Ken Adam, director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Freddie Young.

Boeing 707-436 photographed at New York John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport in 1962 – Photo: John Proctor

It is one of those stories that make your blood run cold and even with the odds of being killed on a single airline flight at 1 in 29.4 million, fear is a constant companion of many air travellers. The weather in Tokyo was good on the afternoon of 5 March 1966, a clear and cloudless sky. British Overseas Airways flight 911 was scheduled to leave Tokyo at 1:30pm for Hong Kong and due to the perfect weather conditions, Captain Bernard Dobson (45) requested a change of the scheduled flight plan, climbing visually via Mt. Fuji to allow his 124 passengers onboard the Boing 707 a rare view of the Japanese landmark.

Mount Fuji - Photo: Koyo Onada
Mount Fuji – Photo: Koyo Onada

After its departure from Tokyo at 1:58pm, flight BOAC 911 began climbing southwest towards Mt. Fuji, reaching 17,000ft. Passing over Gotemba, the aircraft turned northwest and began a slow descent towards the 12,400ft mountain. Shortly afterwards, witnesses reported seeing the aircraft trailing white vapour. The aircraft was then seen to be shedding pieces and then a large puff of vapour came from the aircraft’s tail. It pitched up and entered a flat spin, the tail assembly and engines seen to be missing and the starboard outer wing had failed. The forward fuselage then broke off and the aircraft continued in a flat spin until impacting the base of Mt. Fuji. All aboard 911 were killed.

The moment BOAC 911 falls near Mount Fuji

A strong pressure gradient lay over Japan at that time, causing strong west to northwest winds and clear visibility. At the time of the accident, a weather station at the base of Mt. Fuji was registering winds of 60-70kts. Winds of such velocity are very conducive to the formation of mountain waves. These waves are formed by smooth air flowing at a high velocity encountering and obstruction such as a mountain and “boiling over” or breaking up, resulting in turbulence and gusts. It was concluded that, while approaching Mt. Fuji’s leeward side, flight 911 was violently impacted by a severe mountain wave which led to vertical fin failure and subsequent in-flight break-up, the white vapour being jet fuel flowing out of the aircraft after separation of the engines.

This fatal plane crash could have nearly claimed the lives of Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman as well as production designer Ken Adam, director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Freddie Young. The five men had been on a location scouting tour in Japan for the fifth James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”. At the last moment, all of them cancelled their tickets for BOAC flight 911 to attend a Ninja demonstration and establish whether it could have a place in the upcoming film.

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