50 years since the accident of the Coronado de Spantax in Los Rodeos

Sunday, December 3, 1972. Minutes before seven in the morning. It is still night. In Los Rodeos it rains and there is little visibility. A Spantax Convair Coronado, registration EC BZR, begins the takeoff run on runway 30. Its four engines propel the plane, which disappears into the fog. Then a flash, then a crash.

We are talking about the biggest air accident suffered in Spain up to then and the fourth most serious in world aviation up to that time. This December 3 marks the 50th anniversary of that event that shocked the world.

155 victims, including 7 crew members, was the balance of the accident of a Tenerife Norte-Munich charter flight. The passage was made up of tourists who had arrived in Tenerife on the Greek cruise ‘Jason’.

Not all of the group traveled on that plane, as a second had planned to do so on a Bavaria company flight that same Sunday in the early afternoon.

The plane crashed a few hundred meters from the end of the runway, at the north end, the one that faces Tacoronte. The attack or sabotage was quickly ruled out.

The commander of that flight was Daniel Núñez Ronda, 32, a native of Burgos. He had started in the world of aviation in the Air Force. The co-pilot, Francisco Javier Saavedra, 36 years old; and the mechanic José Alberto Sanz, 30, from León.

The rest of the team was made up of cabin crew members María del Carmen Prieto, 18, from Madrid; María Núñez Ronda, 32, from Reus; María del Carmen Mimo, 28, from Barcelona; and Gesine Mordass, from Riesemburg (Germany), 30 years old.

The plane had arrived the afternoon of the previous day from Gran Canaria and had done so without a ticket. After spending the night in Tenerife, the next morning they set out to travel to Germany.

The bodies were embalmed and sent to Germany and the Peninsula. On December 5, the funeral services were held in the Cathedral of La Laguna.

This accident has been strangely forgotten. Although there are reminders of other air disasters on the island, this is not the case with the Coronado de Spantax. At Mesa Mota we find a monument that honors the memory of the victims of the Jumbo jet accident in March 1977; and in the Anglican church of Taoro, in Puerto de la Cruz, a plaque commemorates those of the Danair del Diablillo B727 accident in April 1980.

The causes

The accident investigation pointed out that the probable cause of the accident was that the plane rose at a speed below what it should have and then lost lift, making a turn to the right, to end up crashing inverted.

When the plane tried to take off, it did so in rain and fog, and it was likely that the pilot would lose the centrality of the runway and, fearing that he would stray off the runway, he pulled the controls before reaching rotational speed.

It is also speculated that due to the low visibility the pilot might have feared that he was running out of a runway and, fearing that he would run out of it, he tried to take off. It could even have caused the failure of an engine that had subtracted power.

In the end, it is only conjecture, since at the time the technology to record the conversations in the cabin was lacking and the data recording was very rudimentary.

The plane and the company

The crashed device was a Convair 990, one of the glorious failures of the early days of jets, when turbine-powered planes displaced piston-engine ones starting in the 1960s. Times were cut in half and the skies were filled with modern aircraft.

Rival of the DC-8 and the B707, it could not compete against these two legends because it was faster than both, this being precisely its Achilles heel: it consumed a lot of fuel, being capable of touching the speed of sound.

The work of General Dynamics, Swissair and Spantax were its main companies in Europe. At present, a Coronado is preserved at the Mallorca airport, where an association from the Balearic island is restoring it.

Spantax was a Spanish airline that would end up disappearing in the mid-80s of the last century. It played a key role in the arrival of tourists to Spain during the boom in this activity half a century ago in our country and its livery was common in Canarian airports.

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