Reckless Flying Led To Swiss Ju-52 Crash


The Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board has determined a couple of highly experienced but reckless pilots flying a non-airworthy Ju-52 vintage aircraft entered a stall/spin that killed them, another crew member and their 17 passengers on a sightseeing flight on Aug. 4, 2018. The aircraft was flown at low altitude and too close to the rugged terrain at low airspeed. The board deduced it was momentarily upset by turbulence that the pilots should have expected and accounted for in flying the plane in that area. The three-engine transport spun nearly vertically into a mountainside near Piz Segnas in the Swiss Alps. “The flight crew piloted the aircraft in a very high-risk manner by navigating it into a narrow valley at low altitude and with no possibility of an alternative flight path,” the board determined. “The flight crew chose a dangerously low airspeed as regard to the flight path.”

But the investigation also determined that the risky behavior was nothing new. “The flight crew was accustomed to not complying with recognized rules for safe flight operations and taking high risks,” the report said. Both pilots were high-time former Swiss air force pilots who were well trained in mountain flying. The board said their decision to fly at about 300 AGL and about 100 feet horizontally from the ridges could not have been borne of ignorance. Rather, it said, it reflected a deficient safety culture that permeated every aspect of the company that operated that aircraft and its two sister Ju52s on hundreds of passenger flights every year. 

“In particular, the air operator’s flight crews, who were trained as Air Force pilots, seemed to be accustomed to systematically failing to comply with generally recognized aviation rules and to taking high risks when flying Ju 52 aircraft,” the report said. It also found shoddy maintenance performed by technicians who were not up to the job and that the three BMW radial engines were not able to make full power. The tour company at the time of the crash, Ju-Air, went out of business in 2018 and a new company, Junkers Flugzeugwerke, is trying to regain government approval to operate the two remaining aircraft.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. There seems to be a trend with many of these vintage airplane operators in recent times of substandard maintenance, its a similar story with B-17 909. If they cannot make enough with these flight to maintain these aircraft properly, then they should not be operating at all. As much of a shame as it would be to have them grounded, they are better in a museum where patrons can view them than in a pile of debris with patrons dead inside.

      • Sure it did. The engines could not develop full power on an already underpowered aircraft for the mission. More power would mean more airspeed and possibly no stall. Still, it sounds like this was an accident looking for someplace and time to happen and if not this time it would have been another time.

  2. Quote “The board said their decision to fly at about 300 AGL and about 100 feet horizontally from the ridges” Unquote.

    This is being a complete wimp as a glider pilot, though the 300 ft AGL could be regarded as a VERY low Limit, it should be no problem with compensation by adding speed, at least 5%, if not 10%. The Valley is a problem, as the board said; it left them without an escape route (though this would not have helped them in this incident). Like other things with power flying, go back to the basics with gliding and you will have, on the whole, much safer outcomes!

  3. If you wouldn’t go there in a glider, then think VERY hard about not going there in a powered aircraft!

  4. You’re flying a vintage/antique airplane. One of only a few left in the world. Isn’t that risk enough? Do you really need to go buzzing the terrain as well?

  5. Looks like another Normalization of Deviation outcome. Business was booming with high load factors combined with economic pressure for completion of all flights before the winter weather sets in. Those challenges are like throwing meat to the junkyard dogs with high time, very experienced former military mountain fliers. Defer the maintenance till winter knowing who in the Swiss regulatory agency would actually show up for a ramp check.

    The crew was not oblivious to the mechanical condition of the airplane just like the crew of the Collings Foundation “None-O-Nine”. Both flight crews were very confidant they could handle any situation including degraded aircraft performance due to deferred maintenance. They got used to their ever degrading environment with its equally corresponding degradation of decision making.

    And in both cases, when the flight circumstances had significantly changed the over-confidant crews did not handle their respective emergencies well. Was it the chicken or the egg for the JU-52 crew? Was the lack of performance in the airplane that set up this inflight emergency to handle the turbulence or was the turbulence the catalyst pushing the lack of aircraft performance beyond its capability. Maybe, we will never know. But we do know, flying under Normalization of Deviation eventually kills.

  6. Jim H.,
    “Normalization of Deviation” kinda sounds like my Ex-wife. And her “just friends” friend.

  7. Can’t help feel a little bit bitter and disgusted seeing stuff like this, I sit watching stories of exmilitary jocks destroying historic planes by buzzing terrain and completely deficient pilots put perfectly good airliners and cargo aircraft into bays, cities and terrain in broad daylight. My promising career as a pilot was terminated before it even got started, by a FSDO employee who thought performing a SDA light gun test from the parking lot of the airport with the setting sun directly behind the tower was reasonable. On top of that 18 year old me was too naive to read the rules for performing the test, which has a prescribed length for the light gun flashes instead of the cheap rapid fire disco light show I got. Might have actually passed that one if I had the wherewithal to say that one to two second flashes were short of the standard 5 seconds.