“The plane is virtually intact, even the wings are there, only the cockpit is missing” diver Jose Marques told Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias. “What we found is practically a grave,” he added.
Two kilometres off the shore and at 105 metres below the surface, divers found all the seats, life jackets, gas masks and even passengers’ clothing on seats. There were no human remains of the people who died in the accident: 36 lost their lives, but only 19 corpses were recovered at the time.
The plane, belonging to Swiss airline SATA, left on December 18th 1977 from Zurich with 52 passengers on board ready to spend their Christmas holidays in Madeira. After a stopover in Geneva, the flight continued its way to the mountainous Portuguese island.
Shortly before landing, the crew made a fatal coordination error, flying too low. When approaching the island, they lost sight of the runaway but an optical illusion made them land in the Atlantic Ocean, four kilometres away from the Funchal airport. The investigation concluded that neither of the two pilots was authorised for night landing.
The jet remained on the surface of the water for two minutes before plunging rapidly to the bottom of the sea, survivors told local media at the time. Most of the passengers were unable to free themselves from their seat belts, and went down with the plane. Others died of poisoning from the jet’s fuel.