27 November 1983: The second deadliest aviation accident in Spanish territory

Firefighters with some of the wrecked fuselage at the scene.
Firefighters with some of the wrecked fuselage at the scene. / SUR
  • Among the passengers were prominent literary figures en route to the Meeting of Hispanic American Culture in Colombia

At around five minutes past midnight on 27 November 1983, a Colombian Avianca Airlines jumbo jet crashed only minutes before it was scheduled to land at Madrid's Barajas airport. Avianca Flight 011 remains the second deadliest aviation accident in Spanish territory (behind the Tenerife disaster) and the worst accident in the history of Avianca.

The Boeing 747 was on an international scheduled passenger flight from Frankfurt to Bogota, with stops in Paris, Madrid and Caracas, and most of the passengers were French nationals.

The plane crashed near the small town of Mejorada del Campo, approximately eight miles from Madrid, and witnesses claimed the aircraft smashed into a field after veering to miss houses, before bursting into flames.

The aircraft, which took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10.25pm on November 26, was bound for Madrid, but during the approach to the runway the plane hit three different hills on its way down.

Of the 181 people killed, 23 were crew members, although four of these were off duty. Miraculously, 11 people survived the crash, which was judged to be caused by human error due to the captain incorrectly judging the plane's position. Some of the survivors were ejected from the plane while still in their seats.

The aircraft was completely destroyed and the debris was widely scattered due to the severity of the impact.

Among the passengers were prominent writers and culture critics who had been invited to the first Meeting of Hispanic American Culture by the Colombian president of the time, Belisario Betancur.

These included Mexican novelist Jorge Ibargüengoitia; Uruguayan writer and literary critic Ángel Rama; Peruvian poet and novelist Manuel Scorza; and Argentinian writer and art critic Marta Traba. Another notable cultural figure who died in the crash was Spanish pianist Rosa Sabater.

The first contact with Spanish air traffic controllers had taken place at 11.30pm, and the plane was cleared to land at around midnight: this was the last contact with the aircraft.

The plane's digital flight data recorder was recovered in good condition several hours later. The crash was investigated by the Spanish Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission (CIAIAC), which concluded that the fault was 'inaccurate navigation by the crew', which placed them in an incorrect position for initiating the correct approach manoeuvre.