The global aviation industry has not been without its dark points in history. Air travel is dangerous, despite numerous advances in technology and aviation engineering over the years. Taking a look at the worst aviation accidents in history can give you an idea of just how badly things can go – often due to preventable mistakes. Here are the three worst aviation accidents in history:
#3: World’s Deadliest Mid-Air Plane Crash
The world’s deadliest mid-air aviation collision occurred in northern India, over the city of Charkhi Dadri. The collision involved Saudi Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907. On November 12, 1996, the two flights were bound for Dhahran and Indira, respectively. The Kazakhstan flight had clearance to descend to 15,000 feet but instead descended to 14,000 feet. The Saudi flight was flying in the opposite direction.
The air traffic controller didn’t catch the close proximity of the planes in time, and the two aircraft collided in midair. The wing of the Saudi plane came off as the tail of the Kazakhstan plane cut through it, causing the Saudi plane to spiral downward and ultimately kill 312 people on board. The Kazakhstan airplane also entered into an uncontrolled descent, resulting in the deaths of all 37 people on board. The midair collision resulted in a total of 349 fatalities.
On August 12, 1985, the second-deadliest aviation accident in history occurred when Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed into a mountainside after losing control. The plane departed from the Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, heading for Osaka. At about 12 minutes following takeoff, the aft pressure bulkhead ruptured at an area that the airline had repaired years earlier. The rupture occurred at an altitude of 24,000 feet and caused rapid decompression of the cabin.
Within several minutes, the unpressurized cabin resulted in the failure of the firewall and the vertical fin’s supporting structure, which separated from the airplane. All four hydraulic systems soon depleted, making it impossible to control the aircraft. Thirty-two minutes after the decompression, the plane crashed into mountains at 340 knots. The crash killed 505 passengers and 15 crew members. Four people survived the crash, close to the tail area that broke away.
#1: The Tenerife Airport Disaster
The deadliest aviation accident in history actually occurred while on the ground, not in the air. In 1977, two fully loaded Boeing 747 passenger jets collided in the middle of a runway on Tenerife Island, killing 583 people. Neither plane was supposed to be at this airport, but terrorist activity at the original airport diverted both aircrafts to the Los Rodeos Airport in the Canary Islands.
Heavy fog, an issue with transmitters, and miscommunication between the pilots and the control center resulted in the KLM 4805 taking off without permission, while the Pan Am 1736 was still on the runway, at the wrong exit because the pilot couldn’t read the signs in the fog. Several mistakes produced a domino effect that resulted in the almost head-on collision, killing everyone on the KLM and 326 of the 380 passengers on the Pan Am. It remains as the airline crash with the highest death toll in global history.