The World's Most Dramatic Aviation Crashes
Over history, our fascination with human flight has lead to many of the greatest technological innovations, and many of the greatest disasters. Through aviation history, many have died in aircraft accidents over the years but these days with the NTSB and similar organizations in other countries aviation accidents are become more and more rare. When they do happen, the causes are examined with exceptional scrutiny and appropriate changes are made to prevent similar events in the future.
The most terrible air disasters of the past have unfortunately been learning experiences along the road to aviation safety. Today, although accidents do happen, commercial flight is considered among the safest ways to travel. Many lives however, have been lost in the process. I have included only tragedies that were a result of aircraft failure, faulty design, pilot error or weather and not incidents involving hijacking or deliberate sabotage.
Worst aviation disasters in history
The Hindenburg was an American-built zeppelin designed for trans-oceanic passenger travel. It was a marvel of it's time and it's demise is widely considered to be a defining moment in aviation history. The tragic fire and crash of the Hindenburg permanently shook consumer confidence in airship travel and the industry never recovered. There are fewer than 15 blimps in the world today, a dismal number for which the Hindenburg tragedy is certainly to blame.
On May 6, 1937, while trying to dock with a landing station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, something went terribly wrong. The Hindenburg caught fire and burned to the ground while attempting to land. 35 people lost their lives aboard the airship and 1 person died on the ground. Although the exact cause of the fire is not known, witnesses on the ground reported seeing a fluttering ahead of the upper fin which may have indicated that gas was escaping moments prior to the fire.
Japan Airlines Flight 123
on July 12, 1985 Japan Airlines Flight 123 departed Tokyo International Airport en route to Osaka. 12 minutes into the flight the rear cargo door blew open causing explosive decompression and ripping the rear tail fin off the plane. The explosion also damaged the hydraulic system rendering the plan uncontrollable. It crashed into Mount Takamagahara killing 520 people on board. There were 4 survivors, all of them passengers.
The cause of the crash was found to be an improper repair on the rear cargo door after a tail strike on the runway seven years earlier. Boeing accepted some fault for covering up faulty maintenance procedures and without admitting fault, Japan Airlines paid out 780 million yen in "condolance money" to families of the victims. The president of Japan Air line resigned and a maintenance manager later committed suicide.
Charki/Dadri Midair Collision
On November 12, 1996, a Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushn II-76 and a Boeing 747 operated by Saudi Arabian airlines collided midair over Charki Dadri India. All passengers on both aircraft died in the crash including 312 aboard the Saudi Arabian airlines plane and 37 aboard the Kazakhstan airlines plane. Initially, rescuers found 4 survivors from the Kazakhstan plane but they all died of their injuries.
The Kazakhstan pilots were eventually found to have caused the crash by descending below the altitude they were directed to fly at. A main contributing factor was found to be the lack of English language competency with the pilots on that plane who were communicating via a radio operator sitting behind them in the plane. The radio operator did not have his own instruments but had to peer over the pilot's shoulders to se what altitude the plane was at.
Bois d' Ermenonville, France Crash
On March 3, 1974, a Turkish Airlines DC-10 crashed into the Ermononville Forest in France. It remains the deadliest crash ever involving a DC-10, the second highest death cont of a single plane crash and fourth highest death count of any plane crash in history. The crash was caused by a cargo-hatch door blowing off causing decompression and severing control cables rendering the plane uncontrollable.
There were a variety of causes for the cargo door failure, including faulty design that allowed the door to be forced shut when it was not locked, lack of a required support plate that was never installed and locking pins that had been filed down, effectively reducing resistance on the lock. The door had also last been handled by a Moroccan baggage handler who could not read the relevant notices, either in Turkish or English.
Tenerife Airport Disaster
On March 24, 1977, two Boeing 747s collided at Los Rodeos Airport on the island of Tenerife killing 583 people in total, this crash is considered the worst crash in aviation history. This crash occurred while one plane was taxiing on the ground, and the other had barely taken off at less than 20 feet altitude.
A bomb had gone off at Gran Canaria airport in Spain's Canary Islands. Many flights were diverted to Los Rodeos airport, far more than the airport was ever designed to handle. It was a simple aerodrome, with no ground radar and only a set of binoculars and a radio to maintain contact with planes. The morning of the crash, there was heavy fog, and many planes were parked on the single taxiway, forcing jets to taxi backwards along the main runway before taking off.
The collision occurred because a KLM Airways pilot misunderstood communication from the controller at the tower, and believed he had been cleared for take-off when a Pan Am 747 was taxiing towards him on the main runway. The KLM pilot tried to pull up to avoid the collision but struck the second jet and crashed further down the runway. Everybody aboard the KLM flight died and all but 56 passengers and 5 crew died on the Pan Am plane.