Air transportation has been widely considered to be the safest form of travel. When the unexpected happens, the results are more often than not catastrophic to say the least. Heartrending and frightening stories of history’s 6 worst and deadliest airline disasters have been enumerated below.
1. Tenerife Airport Disaster (1977)
A bomb explosion at Gran Canaria Airport forced Pan Am Flight 1736 and KLM Flight 4805 was diverted to Los Rodeos Airport, currently Tenerife North Airport on the fateful day of March 27, 1977. Dense smog, no ground radar and several miscommunications resulted in the head on collision of the 2 Boeing 747s on the runway.
This incident remains the worst and deadliest airline disaster in aviation history till this day. All 248 passengers and crew aboard the KLM along with 335 of the 396 people aboard the Pan AM perished placing the death toll at a staggering 583 lives.
In the aftermath, air traffic controller phraseology was standardized to reduce the chance of miscommunication which was attributed as the primary cause of the events leading up to the disaster. The disaster also resulted in creation of the Crew Resource Management concept which gave flight crew more authority to challenge the plane’s pilots if they believed something was not right.
2. Japan Airlines Flight 123 (1985)
On Aug 12, 1985 Japanese Airlines Flight 123 left Tokyo on route to Osaka, when a disastrous mechanical failure of the plane’s rear pressure bulk head sent the Boeing 747 crashing into Mount Takamagahara. The lives of all 15 crew and 505 of 509 passengers on board was snuffed out in a moment resulting in the worst single aircraft disaster in aviation history with the death toll placed at 520.
Japanese airline accident investigation commission discovered that the airliner had been damaged 7 years earlier and repaired inadequately. The crash resulted in establishment of the Safety Promotion Center at Tokyo International Airport created for training to inculcate the importance of an individual’s responsibility to ensure airline safety.
Related: Top 6 Worst Disasters In The World
3. Charkhi Dadri Mid Air Collision (1996)
The worst mid-air collision in aviation history happened on November 12, 1996 Charkhi Dadri village situated near New Delhi. Saudi Arabian Flight 763 had just taken off from New Delhi and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 was coming in to land when they collided in mid-air killing all 349 people on board both planes.
The Kazakhstan Airline pilots were found lacking in communication skills in English and had relied totally on their radio operator for communication with air traffic control. Indira Gandhi International Airport had used the same corridor for both departures and arrivals, but lacked secondary surveillance radar to measure readings of aircraft altitude. The aftermath brought about resolution of both of these critical issues.
4. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (1974)
Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed outside of Paris in March of 1974 killing all 346 on board. Investigators discovered that the rear cargo hatch of the DC10 blew off causing decompression snapping cables resulting in the pilots losing control of the craft.
Following the incident, the latches for the rear cargo hatch on DC10 planes were redesigned and locking systems upgraded after it was discovered that failure of the hatch could easily lead to collapse of the floor and disruption of controls.
5. Saudia Arabian Flight 163 (1980)
All 14 crew members and 287 passengers on board Saudia Arabian Flight 163 were killed after the Lockheed L1011 caught fire after take off from Riyadh International Airport in August of 1980. The pilots were forced to make an emergency landing at the airport and the plane burst into flames on touch down.
Autopsies later revealed that passengers had choked to death from inhaling smoke and noxious fumes. This incident is the deadliest airline disaster which did not involve a mid-air collision or mid-flight break up.
6. American Airlines Flight 191 (1979)
American Airlines Flight 191 crashed moments after take off from Chicago International Airport in May of 1979. Engine number 1 on the left-wing of the DC10 separated, flipping over the top of the wing, cutting hydraulic fluid lines and severely damaging controls of the plane.
All 13 crew and 258 passengers onboard were killed and the incident remains the worst airline disaster on American soil. Investigators attributed engine separation to incorrect maintenance procedure at American Airlines.
A terrifying list of the 6 worst and deadly airline disasters ever witnessed in aviation history indeed. Just reading about the disasters is enough to give us nightmares and make us rethink about traveling on an airplane again. Please feel free to share your comments about other aviation disasters in comments section.