Worst Airline Disaster - History

Worst Airline Disaster - History

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On December 16th two airliners collided over the skies of Brooklyn. The two aircraft invovled were a United DC-8 and a TWA Constellation. There was only one survivor. The DC 8 was scheduled to land at Idelwild while the Constellation was on its way to La Guardia Airport.

Worst Airline Disaster - History

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Fatal Date Location Carrier Type Photo
1 2907* 09/11/2001 New York City, New York American /United Airlines B767 / B767
2 583 03/27/1977 Tenerife, Canary Islands Pan Am / KLM B747 / B747
3 520 08/12/1985 Mt. Osutaka, Japan Japan Air Lines B747
4 349 11/12/1996 New Delhi, India Saudi / Kazastan B747 / Il76
5 346 03/03/1974 Bois d' Ermenonville, France Turkish Airlines DC10
6 329 06/23/1985 Atlantic Ocean West of Ireland Air India B747
7 301 08/19/1980 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabian Airlines L1011
8 298 07/17/2014 Hrabove, Ukraine Malaysia Airlines B-777
9 290 07/03/1988 Persian Gulf Iran Air A300
10 275 02/19/2003 Shahdad, Iran Islamic Revolution's Guards Co. Il-76MD
11 273 05/25/1979 Chicago, Illinois American Airlines DC10
12 270 12/21/1988 Lockerbie, Scotland Pan American World Airways B747
13 269 09/01/1983 Sakhalin Island, Russia Korean Airlines B747
14 265 11/12/2001 Belle Harbor, Queens, New York American Airlines A300
15 264 04/26/1994 Komaki, Japan China Airlines A300
16 261 07/11/1991 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Nationair/charter Nigeria AW DC8
17 257 04/11/2018 Bufarik AB, Algeria Algerian Air Force Il76
- 257 11/28/1979 Mt. Erebus, Antarctica Air New Zealand DC10
19 256 12/12/1985 Gander, Newfoundland, Canada Arrow Airways DC8
20 239 03/08/2014 South Indian Ocean Malaysia Airlines B777
21 234 09/26/1997 Buah Nabar, Indonesia Garuda Indonesia Airlines A300
22 230 07/17/1996 Off East Moriches, New York Trans World Airlines B747
23 229 09/02/1998 Off Nova Scotia, Canada Swissair MD11
24 228 06/01/2009 Atlantic Ocean Air France A330
- 228 08/06/1997 Agana, Guam Korean Airlines B747
26 227 01/08/1996 Kinshasa, Zaire African Air AN32
27 225 05/25/2002 Off Penghu, Taiwan China Airlines B747
28 224 10/31/2015 North Sinai, Egypt Metroair A321
29 223 05/26/1991 Ban Nong Rong, Thailand Lauda Air B767
30 217 10/31/1999 Off Nantucket, Massachusetts EgyptAir B767
31 213 01/01/1978 Off Bandra, Maharashtra, India Air India B747
32 203 02/16/1998 Taipei, Taiwan China Airlines A300
33 200 07/10/1985 Uchuduk, Uzbekistan, USSR Aeroflot TU154
34 199 07/17/2007 Sao Paulo, Brazil TAM Brazil A320
35 191 12/04/1974 Maskeliya, Sri Lanka Martinair Holland DC8
36 189 09/11/2001 Arlington, Virginia American Airlines B757
- 189 02/06/1996 Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic Alas Nacionales (Birgenair) B757
- 189 10/29/2018 Lion Air Jakarta, Indonesia B737
39 188 08/03/1975 Immouzer, Morocco Aila Royal Jordanian Airlines B707
40 183 05/09/1987 Warsaw, Poland Polskie Linie Lotnicze IL62
- 183 11/15/1978 Katunavake, Sir Lanka Loftleidir DC8
42 181 11/27/1983 Madrid, Spain Avanca B747
43 180 12/01/1981 Mt. San Pietro, Corsica, France Index Adria Avioproment MD80
44 178 10/11/1994 Omsk, Russia Aeroflot TU154
- 178 08/11/1979 Dneprodzerzhinsk, USSR Aeroflot / Aeroflot TU134/TU134
46 176 01/08/2020 Shahriah, Iran Ukraine International Airlines B737
- 176 06/07/1989 Paramaribo, Surinam Surinam Airways DC8
- 176 09/10/1976 Gaj, Hrvatska, Yugoslavia Index Adria Avio / BA DC9 /Trident
- 176 01/22/1973 Kano, Nigeria Aila Royal Jordanian Airlines B707
50 174 10/13/1972 Krasnaya Polyana, USSR Aeroflot IL62
51 171 09/19/1989 Bilma, Niger Union des Trans. Aeriens DC10
- 171 09/03/1989 Havana, Cuba Cubana IL62M
53 170 08/22/2006 Donetsk, Ukraine Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154M
54 169 01/30/2000 Off Abidjan, Ivory Coast Kenya Airways A310-304
55 168 07/15/2009 Qazvin, Iran Caspian Airlines Tu-154M
- 167 09/28/1992 Bhadagon, Katmandu, Nepal Pakistan Inter. Airlines A300
57 167 03/31/1986 Maravatio, Mexico Mexicana B727
58 166 07/07/1980 Nar Alma-Ata, Kasakastan, USSR Aeroflot TU154B
59 163 07/30/1971 Morioko, Japan All Nippon / Japanese AF B727 / F86F
60 162 12/28/2014 Java Sea AirAsia A320 -
- 160 08/16/2005 La Cucharita, Venezuela West Carribean Airlines MD-82
- 160 12/20/1995 Buga, Columbia American Airlines B757
63 160 06/06/1994 Xi'an, China China Northwest Airlines TU154M
- 159 11/28/1987 Off Mauritius, Indian Ocean South Africian Airways B747
65 159 06/03/2012 Lagos, Nigeria Dana Air MD-80
66 158 05/22/2010 Mangalore, India Air India Express B737
157 03/10/2019 Bishoftu, Ethiopia Ethiopian Airlines B737
68 157 12/22/1992 Tripoli, Libya Libya Arab Airlines / Lib AF B727
- 156 08/16/1987 Romulus, Michigan Northwest Airlines MD82
- 156 08/14/1972 KKönigs Wusterhausen, E. Germany Interflug IL62
71 156 11/26/1979 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Pakistan Inter. Airlines B707
- 155 12/03/1972 Tenerife, Canary Islands Spantax Convair 990
73 155 04/04/1975 Siagon, Vietnam U.S. Air Force C-5 Gallaxy
- 154 03/16/1969 Maracaibo, Venezuela Venezolana Inter. de Av. DC9
- 154 09/19/1976 Karatepe Mountains, Turkey Turkish Airlines B727
76 154 09/29/2006 Sao Felix do Araguaia,Brazil Gol Airlines B-737
- 153 07/09/1982 Kenner, Louisiana Pan American World Airways B727
78 153 08/20/2008 Madrid, Spain Spanair MD-82
- 152 06/30/2009 Mitsamiouli, Comoros Yemenia A310
80 152 07/28/2010 Islamabad, Pakistan Airblue A321
81 150 03/24/2015 N ear Digne-Les-Bains, France Germanwings A320
82 149 05/04/2002 Kano, Nigeria EAS Airlines BAC-111
- 148 02/19/1985 Mt. Oiz, Spain Iberia Airlines B727
84 148 01/03/2004 Off Sharm el Sheikh-Ophira, Egypt Flash Air B737
85 146 04/25/1980 Tenerife, Canary Islands Dan Air B727
86 145 07/04/2001 Irkutsk, Russia Vladivostokavia TU154
- 144 02/08/1989 Santa Maria, Azores Independent Air Inc B707
88 144 09/25/1978 San Diego, California Pacific Southwest/Private B727 /C172
- 143 11/07/1996 Lagos, Nigeria Aviation Devel. Corp. B727
- 143 03/17/1988 Cucuta, Colombia Avianca B727
- 143 08/23/2000 Off Manama, Behrain Gulf Air A320
92 143 09/05/2005 Medan, Indonesia Mandala Airlines B737
- 141 08/29/1996 Spitsbergen, Norway Vnokovo Airlines TU154
- 141 12/18/1995 Kahengula, Angola Trans Service Airlift L188C
95 141 11/24/1992 Liutang, Guangxi, China China Southern Airlines B737
96 140 12/25/2003 Cotonou, Benin UTA B727
97 137 06/08/1982 Near Pacatuba, Brazil VASP B727
98 135 08/02/1985 Ft. Worth-Dallas, Texas Delta Air Lines L1011
99 134 12/16/1960 Staten Island/Brooklyn, New York United Air Lines / TWA DC8 / L1049
100 133 02/04/1966 Tokyo Bay, Japan All Nippon Airways B727
- 133 02/08/1993 Tehran, Iran Iran Air / Air Force TU154M

* Two separate planes hit the World Trade Center minutes apart. The total number of fatalities includes passengers and crew on both planes and those killed on the ground.

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8. Iran Air, Hormuz Strait, July 3, 1998 (290 dead)

One of the worst human-induced air crashes in history was the shooting down of the Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes (a United States Navy guided missile cruiser) on the Bandar Abbas-Dubai route. The incident occurred on July 3, 1998, and claimed the lives of 290 innocent civilians, including 66 children. 38 of the dead passengers had a non-Iranian background. According to the U.S. Government, the shooting was a case of mistaken identity, wherein the U.S. crew wrongly identified the Iranian passenger flight as an attacking F-14A Tomcat Fighter.


Tenerife was an unscheduled stop for both flights. Their destination was Gran Canaria Airport (also known as Las Palmas Airport or Gando Airport), serving Las Palmas on the nearby island of Gran Canaria. Both islands are part of the Canary Islands, an autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Morocco.

KLM Flight 4805 Edit

KLM Flight 4805 was a charter flight for Holland International Travel Group and had arrived from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Netherlands. [8] Its cockpit crew consisted of Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten (age 50), [9] First Officer Klaas Meurs (42), and Flight Engineer Willem Schreuder (48). At the time of the accident, Veldhuyzen van Zanten was KLM's chief flight instructor, with 11,700 flight hours, of which 1,545 hours were on the 747. Meurs had 9,200 flight hours, of which 95 hours were on the 747. Schreuder had 17,031 flight hours, of which 543 hours were on the 747.

The aircraft was a Boeing 747-206B, registration PH-BUF, named Rijn (Rhine). The KLM jet was carrying 14 crew members and 235 passengers, including 52 children. Most of the KLM passengers were Dutch also on board were 4 Germans, 2 Austrians and 2 Americans. After the aircraft landed at Tenerife, the passengers were transported to the airport terminal. One of the inbound passengers, who lived on the island with her boyfriend, chose not to re-board the 747, leaving 234 passengers on board. [10] [11]

Pan Am Flight 1736 Edit

Pan Am Flight 1736 had originated at Los Angeles International Airport, with an intermediate stop at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The aircraft was a Boeing 747-121, registration N736PA, named Clipper Victor. Of the 380 passengers (mostly of retirement age, but including two children), 14 had boarded in New York, where the crew was also changed. The new crew consisted of Captain Victor Grubbs (age 56), First Officer Robert Bragg (39), Flight Engineer George Warns (46) and 13 flight attendants. At the time of the accident, Grubbs had 21,043 hours of flight time, of which 564 hours were on the 747. Bragg had 10,800 flight hours, of which 2,796 hours were on the 747. Warns had 15,210 flight hours, of which 559 hours were on the 747.

This particular aircraft had operated the inaugural 747 commercial flight on January 22, 1970. [8] On August 2, 1970, in its first year of service, it also became the first 747 to be hijacked: en route between JFK and Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, it was diverted to José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba. [12]

Diversion of aircraft to Los Rodeos Edit

Both flights had been routine until they approached the islands. At 13:15, a bomb planted by the separatist Canary Islands Independence Movement exploded in the terminal of Gran Canaria Airport, injuring eight people. [13] There had been a phone call warning of the bomb, and another call received soon afterwards made claims of a second bomb at the airport. The civil aviation authorities had therefore closed the airport temporarily after the explosion, and all incoming flights bound for Gran Canaria had been diverted to Los Rodeos, including the two aircraft involved in the disaster. [4] The Pan Am crew indicated that they would prefer to circle in a holding pattern until landing clearance was given (they had enough fuel to safely stay in the air for two more hours), but they were ordered to divert to Tenerife. [14]

Los Rodeos was a regional airport that could not easily accommodate all of the traffic diverted from Gran Canaria, which included five large airliners. [15] The airport had only one runway and one major taxiway running parallel to it, with four short taxiways connecting the two. While waiting for Gran Canaria airport to reopen, the diverted airplanes took up so much space that they were having to park on the long taxiway, making it unavailable for the purpose of taxiing. Instead, departing aircraft needed to taxi along the runway to position themselves for takeoff, a procedure known as a backtaxi or backtrack. [4]

The authorities reopened Gran Canaria airport once the bomb threat had been contained. The Pan Am plane was ready to depart from Tenerife, but access to the runway was obstructed by the KLM plane and a refueling vehicle the KLM captain had decided to fully refuel at Los Rodeos instead of Las Palmas, apparently to save time. The Pan Am aircraft was unable to maneuver around the refueling KLM in order to reach the runway for takeoff, due to a lack of safe clearance between the two planes, which was just 3.7 meters (12 ft). [10] The refueling took about 35 minutes, after which the passengers were brought back to the aircraft. The search for a missing Dutch family of four, who had not returned to the waiting KLM plane, delayed the flight even further. Robina van Lanschot, [16] a tour guide, had chosen not to reboard for the flight to Las Palmas, because she lived on Tenerife and thought it impractical to fly to Gran Canaria only to return to Tenerife the next day. She was therefore not on the KLM plane when the accident happened, and would be the only survivor of those who flew from Amsterdam to Tenerife on Flight 4805.

Taxiing and takeoff preparations Edit

The tower instructed the KLM to taxi down the entire length of the runway and then make a 180-degree turn to get into takeoff position. [17] While the KLM was backtaxiing on the runway, the controller asked the flight crew to report when it was ready to copy the ATC clearance. Because the flight crew was performing the checklist, copying the clearance was postponed until the aircraft was in takeoff position. [18]

Shortly afterward, the Pan Am was instructed to follow the KLM down the same runway, exit it by taking the third exit on their left and then use the parallel taxiway. Initially, the crew was unclear as to whether the controller had told them to take the first or third exit. The crew asked for clarification and the controller responded emphatically by replying: "The third one, sir one, two, three third, third one." The crew began the taxi and proceeded to identify the unmarked taxiways using an airport diagram as they reached them. [19]

The crew successfully identified the first two taxiways (C-1 and C-2), but their discussion in the cockpit indicated that they had not sighted the third taxiway (C-3), which they had been instructed to use. [20] There were no markings or signs to identify the runway exits and they were in conditions of poor visibility. The Pan Am crew appeared to remain unsure of their position on the runway until the collision, which occurred near the intersection with the fourth taxiway (C-4). [21]

The angle of the third taxiway would have required the plane to perform a 148-degree turn, which would lead back toward the still-crowded main apron. At the end of C-3, the Pan Am would have to make another 148-degree turn, in order to continue taxiing towards the start of the runway, similar to a mirrored letter "Z". Taxiway C-4 would have required two 35-degree-turns. A study carried out by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) after the accident concluded that making the second 148-degree turn at the end of taxiway C-3 would have been "a practical impossibility". [22] The official report from the Spanish authorities explained that the controller instructed the Pan Am aircraft to use the third taxiway because this was the earliest exit that they could take to reach the unobstructed section of the parallel taxiway. [23]

Weather conditions at Los Rodeos Edit

Los Rodeos airport is at 633 meters (2,077 ft) above sea level, which gives rise to cloud behavior that differs from that at many other airports. Clouds at 600 m (2,000 ft) above ground level at the nearby coast are at ground level at Los Rodeos. Drifting clouds of different densities cause wildly varying visibilities, from unhindered at one moment to below the minimums the next. The collision took place in a high-density cloud. [24]

The Pan Am crew found themselves in poor and rapidly deteriorating visibility almost as soon as they entered the runway. According to the ALPA report, as the Pan Am aircraft taxied to the runway, the visibility was about 500 m (1,600 ft). Shortly after they turned onto the runway it decreased to less than 100 m (330 ft). [25]

Meanwhile, the KLM plane was still in good visibility, but with clouds blowing down the runway towards them. The aircraft completed its 180-degree turn in relatively clear weather and lined up on Runway 30. The next cloud was 900 m (3,000 ft) down the runway and moving towards the aircraft at about 12 knots (14 mph 22 km/h). [26]

Communication misunderstandings Edit

Cockpit and ATC tower communications [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]
These communications are taken from the cockpit voice recorders of both aircraft, as well as from the Tenerife control tower's tapes.


[KLM first officer completes pre-flight checklist. KLM 4805 is now at the end of the runway, in position for departure.]


KLM FIRST OFFICER Wait a minute, we don't have an ATC clearance. [This statement is apparently a response to an advancing of the throttles in the KLM.] KLM CAPTAIN No, I know that, go ahead, ask.


KLM (RADIO) The KLM four eight zero five is now ready for take-off and we are waiting for our ATC clearance.


TENERIFE TOWER KLM eight seven zero five [sic] you are cleared to the Papa beacon, climb to and maintain flight level nine zero, right turn after take-off, proceed with heading four zero until intercepting the three two five radial from Las Palmas VOR.




KLM (RADIO) Ah roger, sir, we are cleared to the Papa beacon flight level nine zero, right turn out zero four zero until intercepting the three two five. We are now at take-off [or "uh..taking off"].


[KLM brakes released.]


KLM CAPTAIN We gaan . check thrust. [We're going . check thrust.]


[Engine acceleration audible in KLM cockpit.]


TENERIFE TOWER OK. Stand by for take-off, I will call you. [Only the start of this message could be heard clearly by the KLM crew due to a radio heterodyne.]




PAN AM (RADIO) And we're still taxiing down the runway, the clipper one seven three six. [This message is not heard completely clearly by the KLM crew due to a radio heterodyne.]


TENERIFE TOWER Ah, Papa Alpha one seven three six, report the runway clear.


PAN AM (RADIO) OK, we'll report when (we are) clear.


TENERIFE TOWER Thank you. [This was the last radio communication involving the two aircraft. Everything that follows is intra-cockpit communication amongst the respective crews.]


PAN AM CAPTAIN Let's get the hell out of here.


PAN AM FIRST OFFICER Yeah, he's anxious, isn't he?


PAN AM FLIGHT ENGINEER Yeah, after he held us up for an hour and a half, that [expletive]. Now he's in a rush.


KLM FLIGHT ENGINEER Is hij er niet af dan? [Isn't he off then?]


KLM CAPTAIN Wat zeg je? [What do you say?]




KLM FLIGHT ENGINEER Is hij er niet af, die Pan American? [Isn't he off, that Pan American?]


KLM CAPTAIN Jawel. [Oh yes. (emphatic)]


[Pan Am captain sees the KLM's landing lights at approx. 700 m.]


PAN AM CAPTAIN There he is . look at him. Goddamn that son-of-a-bitch is coming!


PAN AM FIRST OFFICER Get off! Get off! Get off!




[PH-BUF (KLM 4805) starts rotation.]




PH-BUF (KLM 4805) records sound of collision.


N736PA (Pan Am 1736) records sound of collision.

Immediately after lining up, the KLM captain advanced the throttles and the aircraft started to move forward. [34] First officer Meurs advised him that ATC clearance had not yet been given, and captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten responded: "No, I know that. Go ahead, ask." Meurs then radioed the tower that they were "ready for takeoff" and "waiting for our ATC clearance". The KLM crew then received instructions that specified the route that the aircraft was to follow after takeoff. The instructions used the word "takeoff," but did not include an explicit statement that they were cleared for takeoff.

Meurs read the flight clearance back to the controller, completing the readback with the statement: "We are now at takeoff." [4] Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten interrupted the co-pilot's read-back with the comment, "We're going." [4]

The controller, who could not see the runway due to the fog, initially responded with "OK" (terminology that is nonstandard), which reinforced the KLM captain's misinterpretation that they had takeoff clearance. The controller's response of "OK" to the co-pilot's nonstandard statement that they were "now at takeoff" was likely due to his misinterpretation that they were in takeoff position and ready to begin the roll when takeoff clearance was received, but not in the process of taking off. The controller then immediately added "stand by for takeoff, I will call you", [4] indicating that he had not intended the instruction to be interpreted as a takeoff clearance. [35]

A simultaneous radio call from the Pan Am crew caused mutual interference on the radio frequency, which was audible in the KLM cockpit as a 3-second-long shrill sound (or heterodyne). This caused the KLM crew to miss the crucial latter portion of the tower's response. The Pan Am crew's transmission was "We're still taxiing down the runway, the Clipper 1736!" This message was also blocked by the interference and inaudible to the KLM crew. Either message, if heard in the KLM cockpit, would have alerted the crew to the situation and given them time to abort the takeoff attempt. [36]

Due to the fog, neither crew was able to see the other plane on the runway ahead of them. In addition, neither of the aircraft could be seen from the control tower, and the airport was not equipped with ground radar. [4]

After the KLM plane had started its takeoff roll, the tower instructed the Pan Am crew to "report when runway clear." The Pan Am crew replied: "OK, will report when we're clear." On hearing this, the KLM flight engineer expressed his concern about the Pan Am not being clear of the runway by asking the pilots in his own cockpit, "Is he not clear, that Pan American?" Veldhuyzen van Zanten emphatically replied "Oh, yes" and continued with the takeoff. [37]

Collision Edit

According to the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), the Pan Am captain said, "There he is!" when he spotted the KLM's landing lights through the fog just as his plane approached exit C-4. When it became clear that the KLM aircraft was approaching at takeoff speed, Captain Grubbs exclaimed, "Goddamn, that son-of-a-bitch is coming!", while first officer Robert Bragg yelled, "Get off! Get off! Get off!" Captain Grubbs applied full power to the throttles and made a sharp left turn towards the grass in an attempt to avoid the impending collision. [4] By the time the KLM pilots saw the Pan Am aircraft, they were already traveling too fast to stop. In desperation, the pilots prematurely rotated the aircraft and attempted to clear the Pan Am by lifting off, causing a 22 m (72 ft) tailstrike.

The KLM 747 was within 100 m (330 ft) of the Pan Am and moving at approximately 140 knots (260 km/h 160 mph) when it left the ground. Its nose landing gear cleared the Pan Am, but its left-side engines, lower fuselage, and main landing gear struck the upper right side of the Pan Am's fuselage, [10] ripping apart the center of the Pan Am jet almost directly above the wing. The right-side engines crashed through the Pan Am's upper deck immediately behind the cockpit.

The KLM plane remained briefly airborne, but the impact had sheared off the outer left engine, caused significant amounts of shredded materials to be ingested by the inner left engine, and damaged the wings. The plane immediately went into a stall, rolled sharply, and hit the ground approximately 150 m (500 ft) past the collision, sliding down the runway for a further 300 m (1,000 ft). The full load of fuel, which had caused the earlier delay, ignited immediately into a fireball that could not be subdued for several hours.

One of the 61 survivors of the Pan Am flight said that sitting in the nose of the plane probably saved his life: "We all settled back, and the next thing an explosion took place and the whole port side, left side of the plane, was just torn wide open." [38]

Both airplanes were destroyed in the collision. All 248 passengers and crew aboard the KLM plane died, as did 335 passengers and crew aboard the Pan Am plane, [39] primarily due to the fire and explosions resulting from the fuel spilled and ignited in the impact. The other 61 passengers and crew aboard the Pan Am aircraft survived, including the captain, first officer, and flight engineer. Most of the survivors on the Pan Am walked out onto the intact left wing, the side away from the collision, through holes in the fuselage structure. The Pan Am's engines were still running for a few minutes after the accident despite first officer Bragg's intention to turn them off. The top part of the cockpit, where the engine switches were located, had been destroyed in the collision, and all control lines were severed, leaving no method for the flight crew to control the aircraft's systems. Survivors waited for rescue, but it did not come promptly, as the firefighters were initially unaware that there were two aircraft involved and were concentrating on the KLM wreck hundreds of meters away in the thick fog and smoke. Eventually, most of the survivors on the wing dropped to the ground below. [10]

Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten was KLM's chief of flight training and one of their most senior pilots. About two months before the accident, he had conducted the Boeing 747 qualification check on the co-pilot of Flight 4805. [11] His photograph was used for publicity materials such as magazine advertisements, including the inflight magazine on board PH-BUF. [10] [40] KLM had suggested initially that Veldhuyzen van Zanten should help with the investigation, not realising that he was the KLM captain who had perished in the accident. [41]

The following day, the Canary Islands Independence Movement, responsible for the bombing at Gran Canaria that started the chain of events that led to the disaster, denied responsibility for the accident. [42]

Los Rodeos Airport, the only operating airport on Tenerife in 1977, was closed to all fixed-wing traffic for two days. The first crash investigators to arrive at Tenerife the day after the crash travelled there by way of a three-hour boat ride from Las Palmas. [43] The first aircraft that was able to land was a United States Air Force C-130 transport, which landed on the airport's main taxiway at 12:50 on March 29. The C-130 transport was arranged by Lt. Col Dr. James K. Slaton, who arrived before the crash investigators and started triaging surviving passengers. Slaton was dispatched from Torrejon Air Base just outside of Madrid, Spain. Slaton, who was a flight surgeon attached to the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron, worked with the local medical staff and remained on scene until the last survivor was airlifted to awaiting medical facilities. The C-130 transported all surviving and injured passengers from Tenerife to Las Palmas many of the injured were taken from there to Air Force bases in the United States for further treatment. [44] [45]

Spanish Army soldiers were tasked with clearing crash wreckage from the runways and taxiways. [46] By March 30, a small plane shuttle service was approved, but large jets still could not land. [46] Los Rodeos was fully reopened on April 3, after wreckage had been fully removed and engineers had repaired the airport's runway. [47]

The accident was investigated by Spain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC). [4] About 70 personnel were involved in the investigation, including representatives from the United States, the Netherlands [48] and the two airline companies. [49] Facts showed that there had been misinterpretations and false assumptions before the accident. Analysis of the CVR transcript showed that the KLM pilot thought that he had been cleared for takeoff, while the Tenerife control tower believed that the KLM 747 was stationary at the end of the runway, awaiting takeoff clearance. It appears that KLM's co-pilot was not as certain about take-off clearance as the captain.

Probable cause Edit

The investigation concluded that the fundamental cause of the accident was that captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten attempted to take off without clearance. The investigators suggested the reason for this was a desire to leave as soon as possible in order to comply with KLM's duty-time regulations (which went in place earlier that year) and before the weather deteriorated further.

Other major factors contributing to the accident were:

  • The sudden fog greatly limited visibility. The control tower and the crews of both planes were unable to see one another.
  • Interference from simultaneous radio transmissions, with the result that it was difficult to hear the message.

The following factors were considered contributing but not critical:

  • Use of ambiguous non-standard phrases by the KLM co-pilot ("We're at take off") and the Tenerife control tower ("OK").
  • The Pan Am aircraft had not left the runway at the third intersection.
  • The airport was forced to accommodate a great number of large aircraft due to rerouting from the terrorist incident, resulting in disruption of the normal use of taxiways. [50]

Dutch response Edit

The Dutch authorities were reluctant to accept the Spanish report blaming the KLM captain for the accident. [51] The Netherlands Department of Civil Aviation published a response that, while accepting that the KLM captain had taken off "prematurely", argued that he alone should not be blamed for the "mutual misunderstanding" that occurred between the controller and the KLM crew, and that limitations of using radio as a means of communication should have been given greater consideration.

In particular, the Dutch response pointed out that:

  • The crowded airport had placed additional pressure on all parties, including the KLM cockpit crew, the Pan Am cockpit crew, and the controller
  • Sounds on the CVR suggested that during the accident the Spanish control tower crew had been listening to a soccer match on the radio and may have been distracted [52]
  • The transmission from the tower in which the controller passed KLM their ATC clearance was ambiguous and could have been interpreted as also giving take-off clearance. In support of this part of their response, the Dutch investigators pointed out that Pan Am's messages "No! Eh?" and "We are still taxiing down the runway, the Clipper 1736!" indicated that captain Grubbs and first officer Bragg had recognized the ambiguity (this message was not audible to the control tower or KLM crew due to simultaneous cross-communication)
  • The Pan Am had taxied beyond the third exit. Had the plane turned at the third exit as instructed, the collision would not have occurred. [5][53]

Although the Dutch authorities were initially reluctant to blame captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten and his crew, [5] [53] the airline ultimately accepted responsibility for the accident. KLM paid the victims' families compensation ranging between $58,000 and $600,000 (or $248,000 to $2.6 million today, adjusted for inflation). [6] The sum of settlements for property and damages was $110 million (or $470 million today), [54] an average of $189,000 (or $807,000 today) per victim, due to limitations imposed by European Compensation Conventions in effect at the time.

Speculations Edit

This was one of the first accident investigations to include a study into the contribution of "human factors". [55] These included:

  • Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten, a KLM training captain and instructor for over ten years, had not flown on regular routes during the twelve weeks prior to the accident. [56]
  • The apparent hesitation of the flight engineer and the first officer to challenge Veldhuyzen van Zanten further. The official investigation suggested that this might have been due not only to the captain's seniority in rank, but also to his being one of the most respected pilots working for the airline. [10][57] This view is questioned by Jan Bartelski, a former KLM captain and the president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA), who knew both officers and believes this explanation to be inconsistent with his knowledge of their personalities. The first officer had intervened when Veldhuyzen van Zanten first opened the throttles, but had then failed to do so on the second occasion. Although the flight engineer had indeed asked the captain whether or not the Pan Am was clear of the runway, he seemed reassured by the captain's answer. The co-pilots had clearly challenged the captain's decisions, but were not insistent enough to convince him to abort the attempted takeoff. [58]
  • The flight engineer was the only member of the KLM's flight crew to react to the control tower's instruction to "report when runway clear" this might have been due to him having completed his pre-flight checks, whereas his colleagues were experiencing an increased workload, just as the visibility worsened. [59]
  • The ALPA study group concluded that the KLM crew did not realize that the transmission "Papa Alpha one seven three six, report when runway clear" was directed at the Pan Am, because this was the first and only time the Pan Am was referred to by that name. Previously, the Pan Am had been called "Clipper one seven three six", using its proper callsign. [60]

The extra fuel taken on by the KLM added several factors:

  • Takeoff was delayed by an extra 35 minutes, allowing time for the fog to settle in
  • Over forty tons of additional weight was added to the aircraft, [61] increasing the takeoff distance and making it more difficult to clear the Pan Am when taking off
  • The increased severity of the fire caused by the additional fuel led ultimately to the deaths of all those on board. [62][63]

As a consequence of the accident, sweeping changes were made to international airline regulations and to aircraft. Aviation authorities around the world introduced requirements for standard phrases and a greater emphasis on English as a common working language. [14]

Air traffic instruction must not be acknowledged solely with a colloquial phrase such as "OK" or even "Roger" (which simply means the last transmission was received), [64] but with a readback of the key parts of the instruction, to show mutual understanding. The word "takeoff" is now spoken only when the actual takeoff clearance is given, or when canceling that same clearance (i.e. "cleared for takeoff" or "cancel takeoff clearance"). Up until that point, aircrew and controllers should use the word "departure" in its place (e.g. "ready for departure"). Additionally, an ATC clearance given to an aircraft already lined-up on the runway must be prefixed with the instruction "hold position". [65]

Cockpit procedures were also changed after the accident. Hierarchical relations among crew members were played down, and greater emphasis was placed on team decision-making by mutual agreement. Less experienced flight crew members were encouraged to challenge their captains when they believed something to be incorrect, and captains were instructed to listen to their crew and evaluate all decisions in light of crew concerns. This course of action was later expanded into what is known today as crew resource management (CRM), which states that all pilots, no matter how experienced they are, are allowed to contradict each other. This was a problem in the crash when the Flight Engineer asked if they were not clear, but Jacob Louis van Zanten (the captain of the KLM, with over 15,000 hours flown) said that they were obviously clear and the Flight Engineer decided that it was best not to contradict the captain. CRM training has been mandatory for all airline pilots since 2006. [66] [67]

In 1978, a second airport was opened on the island of Tenerife – the new Tenerife South Airport (TFS) – which now serves the majority of international tourist flights. Los Rodeos, renamed Tenerife North Airport (TFN), was then used only for domestic and inter-island flights until 2002, when a new terminal was opened and Tenerife North began to carry international traffic again.

The Spanish government installed a ground radar system at Tenerife North Airport following the accident. [14] [68]


Airliner Disasters: History's Worst xhrrHere is a list of some of the worst international and domestic air disasters:

Aug. 12, 1985. In the world's worst disaster involving one plane, a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain near Tokyo, killing all 524 on board.

June 23, 1985. An Air-India 747 plunged into the sea off the Irish coast, killing all 329 on board. An Indian official attributed the crash to an explosion.

Lines 747 was shot down by a Soviet fighter after flying through Soviet airspace near Sakhalin Island. All 269 people aboard were killed.

Yugoslavian Inex-Adria Airways DC-9 slammed into a fog-shrouded mountain near Ajaccio, Corsica, killing all 178 people on board.

Aug. 19, 1980. Fire burst out aboard a Saudi Arabian Airlines L-1011 Lockheed jet as it waited to taxi at Riyadh airport. All 301 people aboard were killed.

Zealand DC-10 carrying 257 people on a sightseeing flight from Auckland to the South Pole struck Mount Erebus in Antarctica. There were no survivors.

United States air disaster, a Los Angeles-bound American Airlines DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, killing all 272 aboard and two men on the ground.

DC-8 carrying Indonesian Moslems home from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, crashed outside the airport at Colombo, Sri Lanka, killing 183 of 259 passengers.

Jan. 1, 1978. An Air-India 747 bound for the Middle East sheikdom of Dubai with 213 people aboard went out of control and crashed into the sea near Bombay. There were no survivors.

March 27, 1977. In the world's worst air disaster, 583 people died when two Boeing 747 airliners, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines craft and a Pan American World Airways jet, collided and burst into flames on a runway at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

March 3, 1974. The 346 passengers and crew members of a Turkish Airlines DC-10 were killed when the plane plunged into the forest of Ermenonville, 26 miles northeast of Paris, shortly after takeoff from Orly Airport.


Aircraft Edit

The aircraft involved was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 registered as N110AA. It had been delivered on February 25, 1972, and at the time of the crash, it had logged just under 20,000 hours of flying time over seven years. The jet was powered by three General Electric CF6-6D engines. A review of the aircraft's flight logs and maintenance records showed that no mechanical discrepancies were noted for May 11, 1979. On the day of the accident, in violation of standard procedure, the records were not removed from the aircraft, and were destroyed in the accident. [1] : 76

Flight crew Edit

Captain Walter Lux (age 53) had been flying the DC-10 since its introduction eight years earlier. He had logged around 22,000 flying hours, of which about 3,000 were in a DC-10. He was also qualified to pilot 17 other aircraft, including the DC-6, the DC-7, and the Boeing 727. [1] : 75 First Officer James Dillard (age 49), and Flight Engineer Alfred Udovich (56) were also highly experienced: 9,275 hours and 15,000 hours, respectively between them, they had 1,830 hours' flying experience in the DC-10. [8]

On the accident flight, just as the aircraft reached takeoff speed, the number-one engine and its pylon assembly separated from the left wing, ripping away a 3 ft (0.9 m) section of the leading edge with it. The combined unit flipped over the top of the wing and landed on the runway. [1] : 2 Robert Graham, supervisor of maintenance for American Airlines, stated:

As the aircraft got closer, I noticed what appeared to be vapor or smoke of some type coming from the leading edge of the wing and the number-one engine pylon. I noticed that the number-one engine was bouncing up and down quite a bit and just about the time the aircraft got opposite my position and started rotation, the engine came off, went up over the top of the wing, and rolled back down onto the runway. Before going over the wing, the engine went forward and up just as if it had lift and was actually climbing. It didn't strike the top of the wing on its way rather, it followed the clear path of the airflow of the wing, up and over the top of it, then down below the tail. The aircraft continued a fairly normal climb until it started a turn to the left. And at that point, I thought he was going to come back to the airport. [9]

What was said in the cockpit in the 50 seconds leading up to the final impact is not known, as the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) lost power when the engine detached. The only crash-related audio collected by the recorder is a thumping noise (likely the sound of the engine separating), followed by the first officer exclaiming "Damn!", at which point the recording ends. This may also explain why air traffic control was unsuccessful in their attempts to radio the crew and inform them that they had lost an engine. This loss of power did, however, prove useful in the investigation, serving as a marker of exactly what circuit in the DC-10's extensive electrical system had failed. [1] : 57

In addition to the engine's failure, several related systems failed. The number-one hydraulic system, powered by the number-one engine, also failed, but continued to operate through motor pumps that mechanically connected it to hydraulic system three. Hydraulic system three was also damaged and began leaking fluid, but maintained pressure and operation until impact. Hydraulic system two was undamaged. The number-one electrical bus, whose generator was attached to the number-one engine, failed, as well, causing several electrical systems to go offline, most notably the captain's instruments, his stick shaker, and the slat disagreement sensors. A switch in the overhead panel would have allowed the captain to restore power to his instruments, but it was not used. The flight engineer may have been able to reach the backup power switch (as part of an abnormal situation checklist—not as part of their take-off emergency procedure) in an effort to restore electrical power to the number-one electrical bus. That would have worked only if electrical faults were no longer present in the number-one electrical system. To reach that backup power switch, the flight engineer would have had to rotate his seat, release his safety belt, and stand up. Since the aircraft did not get any higher than 350 ft (110 m) above the ground and was only in the air for 50 seconds between the time the engine separated and the moment it crashed, the time was not sufficient to perform such an action. In any event, the first officer was flying the airplane and his instruments continued to function normally. [1] : 52

The aircraft climbed to about 325 ft (100 m) above ground level while spewing a white mist trail of fuel and hydraulic fluid from the left wing. The first officer had followed the flight director and raised the nose to 14°, which reduced the airspeed from 165 kn (190 mph 306 km/h) to the takeoff safety airspeed (V2) of 153 kn (176 mph 283 km/h), the speed at which the aircraft could safely climb after sustaining an engine failure. [1] : 53–54

The engine separation severed the hydraulic fluid lines that controlled the leading-edge slats on the left wing and locked them in place, causing the outboard slats (immediately left of the number-one engine) to retract under air load. The retraction of the slats raised the stall speed of the left wing to about 159 kn (183 mph 294 km/h), 6 knots higher than the prescribed takeoff safety airspeed (V2) of 153 knots. As a result, the left wing entered a full aerodynamic stall. [ citation needed ] With the left wing stalled, the aircraft began banking to the left, rolling over onto its side until it was partially inverted at a 112° bank angle (as seen in the Laughlin photograph) with its right wing over its left wing.

As the cockpit had been equipped with a closed-circuit television camera positioned behind the captain's shoulder and connected to view screens in the passenger cabin, the passengers may have been able to witness these events from the viewpoint of the cockpit as the aircraft dove towards the ground. [10] [11] [12] Whether the camera's view was interrupted by the power loss from the number-one electrical bus is not known. [10] The aircraft eventually slammed into a field around 4,600 ft (1,400 m) from the end of the runway. [1] : 2 Large sections of aircraft debris were hurled by the force of the impact into an adjacent trailer park, destroying five trailers and several cars. The DC-10 had also crashed into an old aircraft hangar located at the edge of the airport at the former site of Ravenswood International Airport, which was used for storage. The aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact force and ignition of a nearly full load of 21,000 gallons of fuel no sizable components other than the engines and tail section remained. [13]

In addition to the 271 people on board the aircraft, two employees at a nearby repair garage were killed, and two more were severely burned. The crash site is a field located northwest of the intersection of Touhy Avenue (Illinois Route 72) and Mount Prospect Road on the border of the suburbs of Des Plaines and Mount Prospect, Illinois. [1] : 2

The disaster and investigation received widespread media coverage. The impact on the public was increased by the dramatic effect of an amateur photo taken of the aircraft rolling that was published on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on the Sunday two days after the crash. [14]

Engine separation Edit

Witnesses to the crash were in universal agreement that the aircraft had not struck any foreign objects on the runway. Also, no pieces of the wing or other aircraft components were found along with the separated engine, other than its supporting pylon, leading investigators to conclude that nothing else had broken free from the airframe and struck the engine. Hence, the engine/pylon assembly separation could only have resulted from a structural failure. The cockpit instrument panels were too badly damaged to provide any useful information. [9]

During the investigation, an examination on the pylon attachment points revealed some damage done to the wing's pylon mounting bracket that matched the bent shape of the pylon's rear attachment fitting. This meant that the pylon attachment fitting had struck the mounting bracket at some point. This was important evidence, as the only way the pylon fitting could strike the wing's mounting bracket in the observed manner was if the bolts that held the pylon to the wing had been removed and the engine/pylon assembly was being supported by something other than the aircraft itself. Therefore, investigators now could conclude that the observed damage to the rear pylon mount had been present before the crash actually occurred, rather than being caused by it. [1] : 18

The NTSB determined that the damage to the left-wing engine pylon had occurred during an earlier engine change at the American Airlines aircraft maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, between March 29 and 30, 1979. [1] : 68 On those dates, the aircraft had undergone routine service, during which the engine and pylon had been removed from the wing for inspection and maintenance. The removal procedure recommended by McDonnell-Douglas called for the engine to be detached from the pylon before detaching the pylon itself from the wing. However, American Airlines, as well as Continental Airlines and United Airlines, had developed a different procedure that saved about 200 man-hours per aircraft and "more importantly from a safety standpoint, it would reduce the number of disconnects (of systems such as hydraulic and fuel lines, electrical cables, and wiring) from 79 to 27." [1] : 26 This new procedure involved the removal of the engine and pylon assembly as a single unit, rather than as individual components. United Airlines' implementation involved the use of an overhead crane to support the engine/pylon assembly during removal and installation. The method chosen by American and Continental relied on supporting the engine/pylon assembly with a large forklift. [ citation needed ]

If the forklift was incorrectly positioned, the engine/pylon assembly would not be stable as it was being handled, causing it to rock like a see-saw and jam the pylon against the wing's attachment points. Forklift operators were guided only by hand and voice signals, as they could not directly see the junction between the pylon and the wing. Positioning had to be extremely accurate, or structural damage could result. Compounding the problem, maintenance work on N110AA did not go smoothly. The mechanics started to disconnect the engine and pylon as a single unit, but a shift change took place halfway through the job. During this interval, although the forklift remained stationary, the forks supporting the entire weight of the engine and pylon moved downward slightly due to a normal loss of hydraulic pressure associated with the forklift engine being turned off this caused a misalignment between the engine/pylon and wing. When work was resumed, the pylon was jammed on the wing and the forklift had to be repositioned. Whether damage to the mount was caused by the initial downward movement of the engine/pylon structure or by the realignment attempt is unclear. [1] : 29–30 Regardless of how it happened, the resulting damage, although insufficient to cause an immediate failure, eventually developed into fatigue cracking, worsening with each takeoff and landing cycle during the 8 weeks that followed. When the attachment finally failed, the engine and its pylon broke away from the wing. The structure surrounding the forward pylon mount also failed from the resulting stresses. [1] : 12

Inspection of the DC-10 fleets of the three airlines revealed that while United Airlines' hoist approach seemed to be harmless, several DC-10s at both American and Continental already had fatigue cracking and bending damage to their pylon mounts caused by similar maintenance procedures. [1] : 18 The field service representative from McDonnell-Douglas stated the company would "not encourage this procedure due to the element of risk" and had so advised American Airlines. McDonnell-Douglas, however, "does not have the authority to either approve or disapprove the maintenance procedures of its customers." [1] : 26

Inadequate speed Edit

The NTSB determined that the loss of one engine and the asymmetrical drag caused by damage to the wing's leading edge should not have been enough to cause the pilots to lose control of their aircraft the aircraft should have been capable of returning to the airport using its remaining two engines. [15] [1] : 54 The NTSB thus examined the effects that the engine's separation would have on the aircraft's flight control, hydraulic, electrical, and instrumentation systems. Unlike other aircraft designs, the DC-10 did not include a separate mechanism to lock the extended leading-edge slats in place, relying instead solely on the hydraulic pressure within the system. [1] : 53,57 The NTSB determined that the engine tore through hydraulic lines as it separated from the DC-10's wing, causing a loss of hydraulic pressure airflow over the wings forced the left wing slats to retract, which caused a stall over the left wing. [1] : 53 In response to the accident, slat relief valves were mandated to prevent slat retraction in case of hydraulic line damage. [16]

The wreckage was too severely fragmented to determine the exact position of the rudders, elevators, flaps, and slats before impact, and examination of eyewitness photographs showed only that the right wing slats were fully extended as the crew tried unsuccessfully to correct the steep roll they were in. The position of the left wing slats could not be determined from the blurry color photographs, so they were sent to a laboratory in Palo Alto, California, for digital analysis, a process that was pushing the limits of 1970s technology and necessitated large, complicated, and expensive equipment. The photographs were reduced to black-and-white, which made distinguishing the slats from the wing itself possible, thus proving that they were retracted. In addition, the tail section of the aircraft was verified to be undamaged and the landing gear was down. [9] : 20–21

Wind-tunnel and flight-simulator tests were conducted to help to understand the trajectory of the aircraft after the engine detached and the left wing slats retracted. Those tests established that the damage to the wing's leading edge and retraction of the slats increased the stall speed of the left wing from 124 kn (143 mph 230 km/h) to 159 kn (183 mph 294 km/h). [1] : 23 The DC-10 incorporates two warning devices that might have alerted the pilots to the impending stall: the slat disagreement warning light, which should have illuminated after the uncommanded retraction of the slats, and the stick shaker on the captain's control column, which activates close to the stall speed. Both of these warning devices were powered by an electric generator driven by the number-one engine. Both systems became inoperative after the loss of that engine. [1] : 54,55,67 The first officer's control column was not equipped with a stick shaker the device was offered by McDonnell Douglas as an option for the first officer, but American Airlines chose not to have it installed on its DC-10 fleet. Stick shakers for both pilots became mandatory in response to this accident. [17]

As the aircraft had reached V1, the crew were committed to takeoff, so followed standard procedures for an engine out situation. This procedure is to climb at the takeoff safety airspeed (V2) and attitude (angle), as directed by the flight director. The partial electrical power failure (produced by the separation of the left engine) meant that neither the stall warning nor the slat retraction indicator was operative. The crew, therefore, did not know that the slats on the left wing were retracting. This retraction significantly raised the stall speed of the left wing. Thus, flying at the takeoff safety airspeed caused the left wing to stall while the right wing was still producing lift, so the aircraft banked sharply and uncontrollably to the left. Simulator recreations held after the accident determined that "had the pilot maintained excess airspeed the accident may not have occurred." [1] : 54

Probable cause Edit

The findings of the investigation by the NTSB were released on December 21, 1979:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the asymmetrical stall and the ensuing roll of the aircraft because of the uncommanded retraction of the left wing outboard leading edge slats and the loss of stall warning and slat disagreement indication systems resulting from maintenance-induced damage leading to the separation of the No. 1 engine and pylon assembly at a critical point during takeoff. The separation resulted from damage by improper maintenance procedures which led to failure of the pylon structure. Contributing to the cause of the accident were the vulnerability of the design of the pylon attach points to maintenance damage the vulnerability of the design of the leading-edge slat system to the damage which produced asymmetry deficiencies in Federal Aviation Administration surveillance and reporting systems, which failed to detect and prevent the use of improper maintenance procedures deficiencies in the practices and communications among the operators, the manufacturer, and the FAA, which failed to determine and disseminate the particulars regarding previous maintenance damage incidents and the intolerance of prescribed operational procedures to this unique emergency. [15] [1] : 69

The crash of Flight 191 brought strong criticism from the media regarding the DC-10's safety and design. [18] The DC-10 had been involved in two accidents related to the design of its cargo doors, American Airlines Flight 96 (1972) and Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (1974). The separation of engine one from its mount, the widespread publication of the dramatic images of the airplane missing its engine seconds before the crash, and a second photo of the fireball resulting from the impact, raised widespread concerns about the safety of the DC-10. [18] The final blow to the airplane's reputation was dealt two weeks after the crash, when the aircraft was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although the aircraft itself was later exonerated, the damage in the public's eye was already done. [19]

The investigation also revealed other DC-10s with damage caused by the same faulty maintenance procedure. The faulty procedure was banned, and the aircraft type went on to have a long career as a passenger and cargo aircraft. In response to this accident, American Airlines was fined $500,000 (equivalent to $1.3 million in 2019 dollars) by the U.S. government for improper maintenance procedures. [15] One of the American Airlines mechanics who had last performed this maintenance procedure on the aircraft subsequently committed suicide. [20]

On June 6, 1979, two weeks after the crash, the FAA suspended the type certificate for the DC-10, thereby grounding all DC-10s under its jurisdiction. [21] [22] It also enacted a special air regulation banning the DC-10 from U.S. airspace, which prevented foreign DC-10s not under the jurisdiction of the FAA from flying within the country. [1] : 47 This was done while the FAA investigated whether the airplane's engine mounting and pylon design met relevant requirements. Once the FAA was satisfied that maintenance issues were primarily at fault and not the actual design of the aircraft, the type certificate was restored on July 13 and the special air regulation repealed. [23] [21] [24] The type certificate was amended, however, stating, ". removal of the engine and pylon as a unit will immediately render the aircraft unairworthy." [ citation needed ]

In the wake of the grounding, the FAA convened a safety panel under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the design of the DC-10 and the U.S. regulatory system in general. The panel's report, published in June 1980, found "critical deficiencies in the way the government certifies the safety of American-built airliners", focusing on a shortage of FAA expertise during the certification process and a corresponding overreliance on McDonnell Douglas to ensure that the design was safe. Writing for The Air Current, aviation journalist Jon Ostrower likens the panel's conclusions to those of a later commission convened after the 2019 grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX. Ostrower faults both manufacturers for focusing on the letter of the law regarding regulatory standards, taking a design approach that addresses how the pilots could address single-system failures, without adequately considering scenarios in which multiple simultaneous malfunctions of different systems could occur. [25]

On October 31, a DC-10 performing Western Airlines Flight 2605, crashed in Mexico City after a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. The Western crash, however, was due to low visibility and an attempt to land on a closed runway, [26] [27] [28] through, reportedly, confusion of its crew. [29]

The loss of Air New Zealand Flight 901 on November 28, six months after Flight 191, added to the DC-10's negative reputation. [18] The Antarctic sightseeing flight hit a mountain, [30] [31] [32] which was caused by several human and environmental factors not related to the airworthiness of the DC-10, and the aircraft was later completely exonerated. [33]

Ironically, another DC-10 crash 10 years later, United Airlines Flight 232, restored some of the aircraft's reputation. Despite losing an engine, all flight controls, crash landing in a huge fireball (which was caught on video by a local news crew), and killing 112 people, 184 people survived the accident. Experts praised the DC-10's sturdy construction as partly responsible for the high number of survivors. [19]

Orders for DC-10s dropped off sharply after the events of 1979 (the U.S. economic recession of 1979–82 was also a contributing factor in reduced demand for airliners) and from there until the end of production 10 years later, the two largest DC-10 customers were FedEx and the U.S. Air Force (KC-10 Extender). Despite initial safety concerns, DC-10 aircraft continued to serve with passenger airlines for over three decades after the crash of Flight 191. [34] DC-10 production ended in 1988, [19] and many retired passenger DC-10s have since been converted to all-cargo use. The DC-10 freighter, along with its derivative, the MD-11, constitute part of the FedEx Express fleet. [35] The DC-10s have been upgraded with the glass cockpit from the MD-11, thereby turning them into MD-10s. [36] American Airlines retired its last DC-10s in 2000 after 29 years of service. In February 2014, Biman Bangladesh Airlines operated the final DC-10 passenger flights. DC-10s continue to be used extensively in air freight operations, and military variants also remain in service. [ citation needed ]

Nationalities of the victims Edit

Nationality Passengers Crew Ground Total
United States 247 13 2 262
Saudi Arabia 4 - - 4
South Korea 1 - - 1
Austria 1 - - 1
Belgium 1 - - 1
Netherlands 4 - - 4
Total 258 13 2 273 [37]

Passengers Edit

Some of the victims in the crash of Flight 191 were:

    , a Czechoslovakia-born Israeli–American biomedical inventor (the cardiac catheter) and New Age author (Stalking the Wild Pendulum and A Cosmic Book) [38] , music business manager/promoter/producer/executive for California Jam, California Jam II, Sweathog, The Cowsills, Sam the Sham, Tommy James and the Shondells, Redbone, Gentle Giant, and other musical groups: Coincidentally, Stogel's parents had earlier perished on American Airlines Flight 1. [39][40]
  • Henry F. Regnery, Jr., son of prominent publisher Henry Regnery, [41] was one of 24 publishing professionals on the flight attending the American Bookseller's Association convention in Los Angeles, including the four top executives at Playboy magazine.

Memorial Edit

For 32 years, the victims had no permanent memorial. Funding was obtained for a memorial in 2009, through a two-year effort by the sixth-grade class of Decatur Classical School in Chicago. [42] The memorial, a 2-foot-high (0.6 m) concave wall with interlocking bricks displaying the names of the crash victims, was formally dedicated in a ceremony on October 15, 2011. [43] The memorial is located on the south shore of Lake Opeka, at Lake Park at the northwest corner of Lee and Touhy Avenues, [44] two miles east of the crash site. A remembrance ceremony was held at the memorial on May 25, 2019, the 40th anniversary of the accident. [45]

The cable/satellite National Geographic channel produced a documentary on the crash, [46] and an episode from Seconds From Disaster titled "Chicago Plane Crash" [47] detailed the crash and included film of the investigation press conferences. The Canadian television series Mayday profiled the crash in the episode "Catastrophe at O'Hare", which subsequently aired in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel's television series Air Disasters. [48]

Chicago folk singer Steve Goodman wrote the song "Ballad of Flight 191 (They Know Everything About It)" in response to the crash and the subsequent investigation as the inaugural song for a series of topical songs that aired on National Public Radio in 1979. [49]

A character in the Michael Crichton novel Airframe describes the incident by mentioning how a "good airplane (DC-10)" could be "destroyed by bad press". [50] [51]

Worst plane crash in U.S. history

Thirty-five years ago Sunday, in what remains the worst airline crash on U.S. soil, more than 270 people were killed near O'Hare International Airport when American Airlines Flight 191 lost its left engine on takeoff, rolled sickeningly and crashed near a trailer park.

Unlike the continued mystery surrounding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the cause of the disaster on that sunny Friday afternoon was known rather quickly. A report less than three months later detailed the "10-billion-to-1 long shot" that caused the plane to fall from the sky. An improperly repaired engine mount gave way under the 40,000 pounds of pressure, and compounding the problem, it smashed the forward edge of the wing, severing the hydraulic lines controlling that wing.

In addition to the horrific loss of life, the crash is indelibly inked on the public memory because the accident was captured on film. A 24-year-old pilot from Ontario, Canada, was pacing the terminal with camera at hand and was taking a photo of another plane when he noticed Flight 191 was in trouble.

"I saw the engine come tumbling through the air — tumbling and tumbling to the ground," Michael Laughlin told the Tribune, which bought his photographs — and camera — for $500 after winning an impromptu bidding war against other media outlets.

10 of the Worst Airline Disasters in History

Although the airline crash of the American Airlines Flight 11 and the United Airlines Flight 175 resulted in 1,692 and 965 deaths respectively, these events have not been included in this write-up since, technically, they do not fall under ‘accidents’ or ‘disasters’. Instead, they have been an outcome of an internal attack (hijack). Similarly, the destruction of Air India Flight 182 and Pan Am Flight 103 was caused by yet another internal attack (bomb), hence, these disasters too are not a part of this list.

The plane, now in a nose-high position, experienced aerodynamic stall, i.e., its nose had gone so high that it couldn’t climb, and as a result, it lost airspeed. This caused a fatal crash that killed 264 people, with only 7 survivors.

The plane’s stabilizer (tail) detached and fell into Jamaica Bay. This caused the plane to pitch downwards. The aerodynamic load due to the uncontrolled dive tore the engines from the wings moments before impact. The fuselage of the plane crashed into Belle Harbor, destroying three houses instantaneously. The wreckage was further harmed by fire.

The crash resulted in 265 fatalities: 251 passengers, 9 crew members, and 5 people on the ground. The timing of the crash, coming so soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, initially raised fear of another wave of terrorist attacks these fears were assuaged by the authorities with minimal delay.

273 people, including all 258 passengers, 13 crew members, and 2 bystanders on the ground, were killed in the accident, which was chalked off to a failure to carry out proper maintenance and to spot the potentially threatening condition beforehand.

Iran claimed that the plane’s radio signals were in the range reserved for civilian aircraft, and distinct from the one used by military aircraft. The U.S. later apologized for the “human error” that had caused the tragedy, and paid USD 61.8 million as compensation without accepting legal liability.

The practice of Middle Eastern airlines of allowing Muslim passengers to carry butane stoves on board so that they could follow Islamic dietary laws was roundly criticized in the aftermath, with one report even going so far as to directly blame one of the passenger’s stoves for the accident. The practice, technically illegal at the time but still clandestinely practiced, was completely stopped after this disaster.

However, instead of descending to the height of 4,600 m, the Kazakhstan Airlines plane descended to 4,400 m, and still kept coming lower despite being warned by the air traffic control at New Delhi. By the time the pilot noticed the mistake, the two planes had collided. The Saudia Boeing, whose left wing collided with the Ilyushin’s tail, split apart in mid-air before crashing, while the Ilyushin remained intact, but was uncontrollable due to the damage to the tail, and eventually crashed. Only 6 passengers weren’t killed on the spot, but succumbed to their injuries later.

The pilots tried to regain control by deploying differential engine thrust, but after descending to around 4,000 m they lost control of the plane, which began to drift from its original flight path. It eventually collided into the ridges of Mount Takamagahara, 32 minutes after the rear bulkhead exploded, which resulted in the death of 505 passengers and 15 crew members. Remarkably, four passengers survived.

A notable aspect of this crash was the proficiency of the air crew. Despite the equipment failing them, the fault can’t be attributed to the pilots, since keeping the plane airborne for 32 minutes even after suffering such a vital structural failure was a result of their skill at their trade. During simulations conducted later, no other flight crew managed to keep the plane airborne for as long as the actual crew.

By the time the Gran Canaria Airport reopened and the planes lined up to fly to their destination, a dense fog had engulfed Tenerife. Owing to the blocked taxiway, both 747s were forced to use the sole available runway to taxi for takeoff. Neither the planes nor the controller noticed that two planes had lined up on the same strip, as the lack of ground radar installations meant that the controller only relied on the radio messages from the two planes.

As the result of a series of miscommunications, KLM Flight 4805 began to takeoff without knowing that Pan Am Flight 1736 was still on the runway. It was revealed during the investigation that the KLM pilot hadn’t received authorization to takeoff, but thought he had due to confusing phrasing from air traffic control. This resulted in a ghastly collision, completely destroying both planes and killing a total of 583 people.

Top 10 Deadliest Airplane Disasters in the World’s History

Let us face this ugly truth no matter how much we want to have a peaceful and safe world, and how hard we actually work on achieving this aim, we cannot be entirely through with all the disasters that can take place in any part of the world and at any time. Disasters have a lot of different forms, but here we are referring to the unfortunate accidents and crashes of vehicles, be them cars, motorbikes, ships or airplanes, but the focus is mainly on those flying things. Although we have a lot of different means of transportation, airline travel is usually the most considerate type since it is the fastest as well as the safest mean exists. However, every once in a while, the world witnesses some horrific crashes and hears about dreadful stories of planes which reminds us that life cannot always go the way we wish.

History has had its fair share of aviation catastrophes and we have compiled the ten worst tragedies, according to the toll that each crash took. For some reasons, this news of crashing or destruction of planes usually grabs more attention than those of car accidents and that is probably because airplane crashes do not appear on the news on a daily basis and that makes them shocking. Since the world has witnessed more than a few disastrous air crashes ever since those planes were invented, here is a list of the 10 most terrifying airplane accidents that have ever happened.

10 Korean Airlines Flight 007

Well, this is one of the most disastrous crashes that took place in 1983 by a flight, number 007, sounds like it belonged to James Bond, but the flight actually belonged to the Korean Airlines. The plane was supposedly heading to Seoul as its final destination, but it seems that the pilot was not sober enough to realize that he misused navigation system and that led the plane to deviate from its original route, which was supposed to be toward Seoul, and headed towards the Soviet Union. Ironically, that plane was thought to be a military spy, so it was immediately shot down by a fighter aircraft.

Deadliest air disasters in recent decades

Helicopters with the French air force and civil security services are seen in Seyne, southeastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps. (Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFP/Getty Images)

Among the deadliest air disasters in recent world history:

MARCH 24, 2015: Germanwings Flight 9525, 150 dead

Germanwings Flight 9525 with 150 passengers and crew crashed in the French Alps en route from Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf. All on board are presumed dead.

DEC. 28, 2014: AirAsia Flight 8501, 162 dead

A portion of the tail of AirAsia Flight 8501 is seen on the deck of a rescue ship after it was recovered from the Java Sea on Jan. 10, 2015. (Photo: Prasetyo Utomo, AP)

AirAsia Flight 8501, en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, plummeted into the Java Sea less than an hour after takeoff amid heavy storms. All 162 passengers and crew on board perished.

JULY 17, 2014: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, 298 dead

A local resident stands among the wreckage at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Grabovo in rebel-held east Ukraine on July 19, 2014. (Photo: Alexander Khudoteply, AFP/Getty Images)

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine. The jet, carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew, crashed after being hit by what U.S. officials suspect was a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

MARCH 8, 2014: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, 239 dead

Flying officer Marc Smith turns his Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft at low level in bad weather while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean on March 24. (Photo: Richard Wainwright, AP)

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared less than an hour after takeoff. The plane was traveling from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing. It vanished over the Indian Ocean with 239 passengers and crewmembers on board. Though the search continues for the missing plane, no confirmed debris or crash site have been found.

JUNE 1, 2009: Air France Flight 447, 228 dead

Brazil's navy sailors recover debris from Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean on June 8, 2009. (Photo: Brazil's air force via AP)

Air France Flight 447 went down during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, resulting in the deaths of all 216 passengers and 12 crew. Recovery efforts were hampered because the plane went down on a deep section of the Atlantic Ocean. The wreckage and the black boxes from the plane were not recovered from the ocean floor until May 2011.

NOV. 12, 2001: American Airlines Flight 587, 265 dead

Fire burns from the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the Queens borough of New York City on Nov. 12, 2001. (Photo: New York City Police Department via AP)

Just two months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, American Airlines Flight 587, on its way to the Dominican Republic, crashed in Queens, N.Y., after taking off from John F. Kennedy International airport. All 260 people on board and five people on the ground died. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the crash was overuse of the rudder mechanism.

JULY 25, 2000: Air France Concorde Flight 4590, 113 dead

Air France Concorde flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine on the left wing from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on July 25, 2000. (Photo: Toshihiko Sato, AP)

A metal strip on a Continental DC-10 fell onto the runway in Paris and punctured a tire on the Concorde. Bits of tire got into fuel tanks, which started a fire that brought down the plane, which plowed into a hotel, killing 109 aboard the aircraft and four on the ground. The plane had been headed for New York City. The crash of the Germanwings plane was the first on French soil since the Concorde.

OCT. 31, 1999: EgyptAir Flight 990, 217 dead

Debris from the the wreckage of EgyptAir Flight 990 is unloaded from the Coast Guard Cutter Reliance on a pier at the Quonset Davisville Port and Commerce Park in North Kingstown, R.I., on Nov. 2, 1999. (Photo: Don Emmert, AFP)

EgyptAir Flight 990 from Los Angeles to Cairo crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 217 people on board. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Egyptian pilot brought the plane down intentionally. However, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Agency determined that the plane crashed because of a mechanical failure.

SEPT. 2, 1998: Swissair Flight 111, 229 dead

On Sept. 2, 1998, Swissair Flight 111 plummeted into the sea off Nova Scotia while en route from New York to Geneva. All 229 people on board were killed. (Photo: National Transportation Safety Board)

All 229 people aboard Swissair Flight 111 died when the plane, flying from New York to Switzerland, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax, Canada. The captain was unable to tame a fire that started above the ceiling in the cockpit and eventually lost control of the plane amid the spreading fire and smoke.

JULY 17, 1996: TWA Flight 800, 230 dead

The partially reconstructed shell of the remains of TWA Flight 800 are seen inside the hangar of the National Transportation and Safety Board training center on July 2, 2013, in Ashburn, Va. (Photo: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)

TWA Flight 800 was flying from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Paris when it exploded near Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard. Terrorism was initially suspected, but a four-year investigation by the NTSB determined a fuel tank explosion sparked by a short circuit in the wiring caused the crash.

DEC. 21, 1988: Pan Am Flight 103, 270 dead

A police officer walks past the damage in Lockerbie, Scotland, caused when Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded in December 1988. (Photo: AP)

Pan Am 103 exploded shortly after taking off from London's Heathrow Airport on Dec. 21, 1988. All 243 passengers and 16 crew — including 189 Americans — died in the bombing, which was a terrorist plot. The plane broke into three parts and landed at Sherwood Crescent in Lockerbie, Scotland, where a fireball consumed several houses and killed 11 people. The plane had been headed for New York.

AUG. 12, 1985: Japan Airlines Flight 123, 520 dead

Soldiers and firefighters search for survivors at the crash site of a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 in Komoro, Japan, on Aug. 13, 1985. The search and rescue operation was launched at daybreak when military and police officials finally pinpointed the location of Japan Airlines Flight 123. (Photo: Katsumi Kasahara, AP)

Shortly after departing Tokyo for Osaka, Japan Airlines Flight 123 experienced an explosive decompression but was able to stay airborne for about 30 more minutes before crashing in a remote area in Gunma Prefecture, Japan, according to the FAA. Of the 524 on board the flight, four survived.

MAY 25, 1979: American Airlines Flight 191, 273 dead

Investigators view the wreckage of American Airlines Flight 191 on May 26, 1979, in Chicago. (Photo: Fred Jewell, AP)

The left-wing engine of American Flight 191 came off just before lifting off from Chicago's O'Hare airport, ripping away the wing's control surfaces. Airborne for only seconds, the plane flipped onto its back in the air and hit the ground nose first at nearly 200 mph, killing 273. The jet was bound for Los Angeles.

MARCH 27, 1977: KLM and Pan Am collision, 583 dead

A burnt tail section of KLM jumbo jet lies on runway of Teneridfe airport in the Canary Islands on March 28,1977, a day after the collision between the PLM aircraft and a Pan American Airlines 747 jet. (Photo: AP)

One of the largest commercial air disasters happened off the coast of West Africa on the island of Tenerife, killing 583 people. Two Boeing 747 jumbo jets, one owned by KLM and the other by Pan Am, collided in thick fog on the runway at Los Rodeos airport.

A version of this story was originally posted on March 7, 2014. Contributing: Allison Gray, USA TODAY