Diversion to Boston

Pakistan 801 [Eight Zero One] 21 March 1982


Orly (Paris)–Logan (Boston)– JFK (New York) 1235-2200; 0135-0250Z; AP-AWY, B707-340C

Cockpit Crew 

  • Captain S.M. Husain
  • First Officer Asif Akhtar
  • Flight Engineer Mahmood

Cabin Crew

Flight Steward


Commercial airliners have been lost when the pilot(s) hesitated in making a decision such as the Avianca’s B707 lost in the 1990s at New York.

5 January 1990: Avianca Flight 52, a 707-321B, crashed after running out of fuel in Long Island, New York. The 707 was delayed numerous times because of air traffic control tower shift changes while in the mist of heavy fog in New York. The FAA issued new regulations requiring each plane to stay assigned to only one traffic controller from approach to landing. 73 killed

True this aircraft faced an extraordinary delay in the approach to New York from Norfolk VA, where it made landfall after the oceanic flight, but with the fuel score as it was, an immediate landing necessitated a more aggressive posture to communicate the urgency of the problem.

The accident in 2005 at Toronto of Air France A340 aircraft was a similar indecision problem where the pilot held in air awaiting better weather at Toronto but ultimately decided to attempt a landing with no better weather than before. He landed halfway down the runway, was slow on the reverse thrust so that the aircraft shot past the runway end at a speed greater than 80 knots and ended up in a ravine in the airport perimeter. A simple diversion would have been in order but for economic reasons this is never considered as hotel accommodation, crew rest, all kick in.

Air France Flight 358 was an Airbus A340-313E, registration F-GLZQ, on a scheduled international flight from Paris, France, to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on August 2, 2005. While landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport at 1602 hours EDT, it overshot the end of runway 24 Left by approximately 300 metres (980 feet) and came to rest in a small ravine 300 metres (980 feet) past the end of the runway.  All 309 passengers and crew aboard survived, with 12 people sustaining serious injuries. The rest suffered minor or no injuries. A post-crash fire destroyed the aircraft.  The accident highlighted the role played by highly trained flight attendants during an emergency.

In PIA I never faced any criticism for taking similar diversionary decisions although this was the only major one, the others being weather related on domestic flights.

  • Once on a domestic flight as a new captain I diverted from overhead Faisalabad because of the strong weather situation and the jolts we were getting in the instrument let down on a beacon which was a doubtful aid at that time, an NDB.
  • I did make one overshoot at Frankfurt and some on the domestic scene when I felt it would be safer to try again rather than make a go from the offset position one finds oneself at times after breaking out of clouds. Asif Akhtar was the copilot at Frankfurt when after making an ILS approach in fog we found ourselves slightly off set from the runway but it was possible to land. Captain Mansoor Mughal my instructor in the 707-command training demonstrated and made me do landings from an offset position and at times I have done such as at Stewart, New York, but this time, I chose to try again. In an offset landing the trick is to imagine an extended centreline projecting from the runway and you manoeuvre the aircraft accordingly aligning with it quickly as the ground is very near.

The Diversion

I am flying as captain, and this is my first flight over the Atlantic from Orly to John F. Kennedy after familiarization and route check flights with two different captains, Iftekhar Janjua, deceased in A300 Kathmandu crash, and Sajid Quraishi, deceased, respectively.

First Officer Asif Akhtar and Flight Engineer Mahmood  are the other members of the cockpit along with a flight attendant. This a fully loaded freighter and we carry no passengers. At the apron at Orly airport, First Officer Asif Akhtar had told me that he wanted to be thorough with his pre-flight checks on the aircraft and didn’t want to rush. I had told him to take all the time he wanted and not to feel pushed by the schedule.

Departure Orly is on schedule at 1235Z  (Z= UTC) , and after climb and cruise, while routing over the English Channel, southern England, the Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and into New York State, we start the descent about 120 miles from Kennedy for a landing there. We have been checking the weather en-route, and also were briefed prior to departure from Orly about what to expect at New York. The weather forecast at our arrival is marginal;  it can deteriorate below our acceptable level, the weather minima, in terms of visibility and cloud ceiling.

We also have the alternate weather handy, but that isn’t good either, since the weather seems to be approaching New York from the south and our alternates lie there. They are Washington D.C. (Dulles), and Baltimore, Maryland. We have received the actual weather prevailing at New York City from the navigation receiver, the VOR, which has a voice feature which broadcasts the updated weather continuously along with the barometric pressure, wind velocity, instrument arrival procedure and the runway in use. On first contact with the Approach Radar Control on the VHF radio, you tell them that you have the latest weather, “information charlie”, etc.

At an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level and some 25 nautical miles from Kennedy (Deer Park), we are asked by the New York Approach Control Radar to hold at intersection “Mike” for traffic purposes. For this we slow down to the holding speed of 210 Knots and enter the racetrack holding pattern. We are in contact with our company on their VHF radio channel passing our arrival information.

At this time, the Radar gives a weather update directly to us in form of

  • an indefinite delay over ‘Mike’
  • deteriorating visibility
  • rising wind velocity and an
  • altimeter setting (barometric pressure) as unreadable.
The pressure is falling so rapidly that the radar cannot give a definite figure. There is a storm about to hit New York.

We are on an Instrument Flight Plan, so,  we can hold for 30 minutes over “Mike” at the most and would then have to divert to an alternate airport if not permitted to approach and land at Kennedy. We are legally allowed to make one attempt to land at Kennedy, and if unable, make an overshoot and proceed directly to the filed alternate. Now we are advised that the alternates to the south of New York are not available because they are below weather minimums, and so I make an instant decision to divert to Boston* to the north asking First Officer Asif to request permission for a diversion from the Radar.

The Radar clears us immediately to a higher level and gives a heading vector to steer for Boston. The next few minutes go in a frenzy of tasks as we are responding to the changing radar heading directions, climbing in stages as cleared, leveling off and descending immediately for Boston. Such agility is required that we are on final approach to the runway at Boston after being guided by the radar, but there has been no time for me to open the Jeppesen Manual to takeout the instrument landing system arrival chart for the airport.

I hastily ask Flight Engineer Mahmood to get me the pages, the First Officer is ready with his charts and I have to concentrate on being a true Christian (maintaining a cross with the needles of the flight director instrument) as we approach at short final and touch down at Boston, breaking clouds at 200 feet above ground in marginal visibility. We are followed by few more arrivals from the New York area and then the airport closes.. It is below weather minimums here also. So what a timely decision that had been and a correct one in the heat of the moment. The time is 2200Z or 1800 EDT.

Here I would like to mention the able assistance I received from First Officer Asif Akhtar and Flight Engineer Mahmood who were with me all along and thinking ahead of the aircraft. They were professionals, and  a source of great relief to me. First Officer Asif also remembered to file the takeoff alternate at Boston when we continued our journey to Kennedy after a lapse of two hours.

*The amount of fuel carried is approximately destination plus two hours. It includes an overshoot at destination, diversion to alternate plus holding for 30 minutes at 1500 feet above ground plus 5% of burn off which is called contingency fuel. There is no time to procrastinate as the fuel situation is always marginal after the Atlantic crossing


The first prototype designated 376-80 (N70700) flew for the first time on 15 July, 1954 and revolutionized air transport after Pan Am introduced it on scheduled services from New York to Europe on 26th October 1958. With its four low-slung jet engines, low swept wings and tailfin with antenna at top; low-set tail plane and graceful lines, the 707 ended up spanning the world’s oceans and became a familiar sight at airports worldwide, becoming one of the most successful civilian transports ever built, with production of 878 aircraft. It became the standard long-distance airliner for almost all the world airlines. It is a testament to the superb initial design that a large number of this aircraft remain in civilian use 50 years after the type entered service.

When the 707 entered service, passengers could not believe how smooth flying could be compared to propeller-driven aircraft. Now these wonderful jetliners of the 1960s are referred to as “narrow body” ships because they gave way, beginning in 1970s, to “wide cabin” types like the 747 and DC-10. But every jetliner that flew, regardless of its size or shape, owes a debt to the Boeing 707 which came along just when it was needed. The model 720 was similar in general appearance with shorter fuselage and more efficient engines and was an intermediate-range development of the 707. Total production was 154 aircraft.

Specifications 707-320C
Type: Four-engine long range convertible commercial transport with forward cargo door and loading system
Power plant: Four (18,900-lb.-thrust) Pratt & Whitney JT3D-7 turbofan engines
Max speed: 625 mph
Cruising speed: 549 mph
Service ceiling: 39, 000 ft
Range: 5,742 miles


Empty: 146, 093 lb
Empty weight cargo version: 146, 804 lb
MTOGW-Structural: 331, 600 lb


Two pilots, flight engineer, flight attendants; seating for 147 (14 first class, 133 coach) to 219 (high density) passengers, plus, (1, 700 cu.ft) of luggage; plus 160 lb of cargo

Wing Area: 3, 049 sq. ft./ 2942 sq ft
Span: 145, 8.5”
Height: 42’ 5”
Length: 152’ 11”
Range: 9975 kms / 5785 NM
Thrust: 18000 lb / 19000 lb
Fuel: 23855 US G capacity
Cargo Load: 18000 lb max

Fate of PIA B707 and B720
AP-AZP, 720-030B, Fun Fair Karachi
AP-AXM , 720, Karachi Planetarium
AP-AXL, 720, Fuselage in Lahore Museum
AP-AXQ , 720-04B, Derelict at Karachi since 1974
AP-BAF , 720-047B, Broken up Karachi 1983
AP-AWU , 707-373C, Broken up for spares 12/93
AP-AZW, 707-251B
AP-AWZ , 707-340C, Write off 26/11/1979 Khalid Wyne
AP-AVZ 707-340C, Write off Urumchi, China 15/12/1971 Anwer Khan

Current 2001
AP-AXG , 707-340C, For sale Karachi
AP-BBK , 707-323C, For sale Karachi

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