Pacific Western Airlines Flight 501’s Fiery Aborted Takeoff

Today marks 38 years since the occupants of Pacific Western Airlines flight 501 experienced a narrow escape from a burning jet. The flight, operated by a Boeing 737-200, stopped on a taxiway in Calgary after aborting its takeoff, with fire eventually consuming the aircraft. Thankfully, all of the service’s occupants survived.

The flight in question

Pacific Western Airlines flight 501 was a scheduled domestic flight that originated at Calgary International Airport (YYC) in the Canadian province of Alberta. Calgary had also served as the carrier’s headquarters, following its relocation from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia in 1974.

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The flight’s destination was another Albertan location, namely Edmonton International Airport (YEG). This facility lies almost directly to the north of Calgary International Airport, with the pair separated by around 300 km (162 NM). On March 22nd, 1984, there were 114 passengers and five crew members onboard the flight.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, Pacific Western Airlines was a morning departure. Indeed, on the day in question, it pushed back from the gate at 07:35 local time. Within seven minutes, it had begun its departure from what was then runway 34. This strip now bears the designation 17R/35L, and is 3,863 meters long.



Calgary Edmonton Map

Fire on the taxiway

Looing to depart to the north for a direct path towards Edmonton, Pacific Western airlines flight 501 commenced its takeoff from Calgary’s runway 34 at 07:42 local time. However, after 20 seconds, at which point the Boeing 737-200 operating the flight was traveling at around 130 km/h (70 knots), the pilots heard a loud bang.

Shortly afterward, the plane began to vibrate and veer to the left, causing the crew to suspect that a tire had blown. Despite this, they were able to abort the takeoff using the plane’s brakes and reverse thrust. However, as the aircraft attempted to taxi off the runway, a fire that had broken out at the rear of the jet began to spread.

96 seconds after initially rejecting the takeoff, the cockpit’s fire warning bell sounded. This prompted the pilots, who had since managed to steer the plane onto a taxiway, to order an evacuation, which took place 19 seconds later. Thankfully, all 119 occupants escaped the burning jet, with 22 minor and five serious injuries.


Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737-200

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Investigation and aftermath

Following the incident, an investigation by the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) found that it had, in fact, been caused by an uncontained engine failure. This affected the left engine’s thirteenth stage compressor disc, which was catalyzed by fatigue. Debris from the failure punctured a fuel cell, resulting in the fire.

According to data from ATDB.aero, the Boeing 737-200 involved (C-GQPW) was less than three years old, having been delivered in April 1981. Nevertheless, its damage resulted in its being written off. As for Pacific Western Airlines, the carrier purchased Canadian Pacific Airlines and Wardair in the late-1980s to form Canadian Airlines. This carrier was itself acquired by Air Canada in 2000.

What do you make of this incident? Can you remember it happening at the time? Let us know your thoughts and recollections in the comments.


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