How It Happened: The 10 Deadliest Plane Crashes Of All Time
The world woke up to some terrible news on Sunday, March 10th when an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all on board.
The airline said 149 passengers and eight crew members, were on the flight from the Ethiopian capital to Nairobi in Kenya.
The crash happened at 08:44 local time, six minutes after the months-old Boeing 737 Max-8, took off.
But what really is the deadliest plane crash of all time? Here, we count down the 10 worst plane crashes of all time.
10. American Airlines Flight 191
Date: May 25, 1979
The DC-10 left Chicago O’Hare, on the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend only for its left engine to detach from its wing and fall off, rolling the plane in the air and sending it crashing to earth just a mile from the runway.
The plane “burst into a pillar of flame and smoke that could be seen up to eight miles away,” the Chicago Tribune reported at the time. All 271 people on board and two on the ground were killed, in what remains America’s worst aviation disaster.
The crash was found to be the result of a shortcut taken by removing the plane’s engines for maintenance, cracking an aluminium component which held the engine to the wing.
9. Iranian Air Force Ilyushun II-76
Date: February 19, 2003
The official report into the military aircraft that crashed in the Sirach Mountains, near Kerman in Iran, found that bad weather, including high winds and fog, brought the plane down, killing all on board, all members of the Revolutionary Guards. The Aviation Safety Network classifies the crash as a Controlled Flight into Terrain.
8. Iran Air Flight 655
Date: July 3, 1988
A controversial incident during tense times in the Gulf, owing to the Iran-Iraq War, the Airbus A300, a civilian airline, was shot down by surface-to-air missiles fired from US military cruiser USS Vincennes, killing all on board.
The flight was in Iranian airspace, over Iranian territorial waters and on its usual flight path, yet, according to the US government, Vincennes mistook it for an F-14A Tomcat fighter plane. Crew on the American ship made 10 attempts to contact the Iran Air aircraft on military and civilian radio frequencies, with no response, before firing.
In 1996 the US government and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of Justice, the former expressing “deep regret over the loss of lives”, but not admitting legal liability or formally apologising. The US agreed to pay $213,103.45 compensation per passenger, about £346,000 in today’s valuation.
7. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Date: July 17, 2014
A similar incident took place over eastern Ukraine, when a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down near the Russian border, likely by pro-Russian forces in control of the region during the War in Donbass, between separatist insurgents and the Ukrainian government.
All 298 on board died, when the plane crashed into a field near Torez. Some airlines had already begun to avoid Ukrainian airspace owing to the Crimean crisis that began early in 2014, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation warning of a risk to passenger jets in the area, but not all carriers had changed their routes.
In September 2016, Dutch prosecutors concluded that the missile used to shoot down the plane had been transported into eastern Ukraine from Russia, adding that the launch vehicle returned across the border a day after the crash. The conflict in the region is ongoing.
6. Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163
Date: August 19, 1980
The death of all 301 passengers on board the Lockheed L-1011, on the runway at Riyadh is the world’s deadliest aviation accident not to involve a crash or mid-flight break up. The flight took off from the Saudi capital airport en route to Jeddah, only to return to Riyadh minutes later for an emergency landing after a fire started in the cargo department.
However, when the plane landed, instead of initiating an emergency evacuation, the pilot taxied the aircraft back towards the airport, stopping on the runway for nearly three minutes. It then took some 23 minutes to access the aircraft once the engines were stopped.
By the time the doors were opened all on board had died, from smoke inhalation. The source of the fire is believed to have been two butane stoves in the cargo. An evacuation was never initiated.
5. Air India Flight 182
Date: June 23, 1985
Deemed the deadliest terror attack involving a plane at the time, the Air India Boeing 747, crashed off the coast of Ireland en route from Toronto to Sahar International, in India, after a bomb placed in the cargo hold by Sikh extremists Babbar Khalsa, exploded over the Atlantic.
The passenger responsible is believed to be ‘M Singh’, who checked himself onto the flight – along with a suitcase – but did not board. A second bomb intended to go off in tandem on another flight exploded early in the terminal building at Narita Airport, Japan.
An investigation into the bombing of Flight 182, found numerous failings in the security processes in Canada that allowed the terrorist attack to be successful. A number of memorials commemorate those who died, in Canada and Ireland.
4. Turkish Airlines Flight 981
Date: March 3, 1974
A design flaw on the Douglas DC-10, led an aircraft carrying 335 passengers and 11 crew to crash in the Ermenonville Forest North of Paris, after taking off from Orly Airport bound for London Heathrow, en route from Istanbul.
Around 10 minutes after the plane took off from Orly, the rear left cargo door blew off owing to a problem with how the hatches latched shut, they could be forced shut by baggage handlers without the pins locking correctly – causing an explosive decompression in the cabin, and severing cables linking the flight deck with the aircraft’s elevators, rudder and two engines.
The aircraft pitched sharply nose-down and began picking up speed, as the pilots lost control, before it crashed into trees travelling at around 490mph. In the wake of the accident, the locking mechanism on the cargo doors was redesigned. The crash remains the deadliest single-plane crash with no survivors, the worst on French soil and the second worst in Europe.
3. Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision
Date: November 12, 1996
The world’s deadliest mid-air crash, involved Saudia Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907, over the city of Charkhi Dadri in Northern India.
The Saudia-operated Boeing 747, was bound for Dhahran from Delhi, while the Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin II-76 was bound for Indira airport from Shymkent, when they collided, killing 312 people on board the former and 37 on the latter.
The crash occurred after the Ilyushin aircraft was cleared to descend to 15,000 feet, but then descended past that level to 14,500 feet while the 747 was ascending in the opposite direction. By the time the air traffic controller could warn of the proximity between the two aircraft, it was too late.
The tail of the Kazakhstan plane cut through the Saudia wing, causing the aircraft to go into a rapidly descending spiral, while the Ilyushin entered a gentler but still fast and uncontrolled descent.
The captain of a passing US Air Force aircraft, saw the crash and described “a large cloud lit up with an orange glow”. A number of factors were found to have caused the crash, including the failure of the Kazakhstan Airlines pilot to follow the ATC instructions.
2. Japan Airlines Flight 123
Date: August 12, 1985
The largest single aircraft accident in history, was the crash of a Boeing 747 into Mount Takamagahara, in central Japan. Just four survived when the aircraft spiralled out of control, its wing clipping a mountain ridge, before flipping and landing on its back, following an explosive decompression towards the rear of the plane, the result of a faulty repair job seven years earlier.
Pilots were able to keep the plane in the air for 32 minutes, after the mechanical failure – a time that has not been matched repeating the scenario in flight simulators since, before crashing into a mountain.
Today, there is a shrine on the mountain dedicated to the crash, as well as a museum opened by the airlines, that includes last letters and notes written by passengers to loved ones, to which all staff must visit.
Though four passengers were able to survive, all female and sat in the middle of rows towards the rear of the aircraft, some concluded that more could have been saved had the wreckage been reached quicker by rescuers, and the offer of assistance from a nearby US base, been accepted.
A month after the crash a Japan Airlines maintenance official committed suicide, leaving a note, “I am atoning with my death”.
1. Tenerife Airport Disaster
Date: March 27, 1977
“The magnitude of the accident speaks for itself, but what makes it particularly unforgettable is the startling set of ironies and coincidences, that preceded it,” wrote author and pilot Patrick Smith of the accident that took place at Tenerife North Airport (formerly Los Rodeos), 40 years ago, when two Boeing 747s, one belonging to KLM, the other to Pan Am, collided on a foggy runway.
Neither of the two aircraft were supposed to be at Los Rodeos, both having been diverted away from Las Palmas on the nearby island of Gran Canaria, after it transpired that Canary Island separatists planted a bomb in the airport flower shop.
The collision occurred when the KLM aircraft attempted to takeoff without clearance, while the Pan Am aircraft was still taxiing along the same runway, having missed its turning to leave.
As the KLM 747 emerges from dense fog, having begun an errant takeoff, owing to poor communication and confusion over radio contact, the pilot of the Pan Am was recorded as saying “There he is! Look at him! Goddamn, that son of a bitch is coming!”
The KLM attempted to leapfrog the Pan Am, but couldn’t and clipped the midsection of the latter with its belly. There were no survivors on the KLM flight, while 61 of the 396 on the Pan Am survived.
By Gideon Sarpong | WakeUpAfrica360