Top 10 Deadliest Disasters in Aviation History

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Though air travel is considered the safest mode of travel, it still isn’t a foolproof way to travel safely. From technical failures to mid-air collisions, and planes just going off the radar, we bring to you a list of the 10 deadliest plane crashes of all time.


Turkish Airlines Flight 981 

Date: March 3, 1974

Casualties: 346

 Deemed as the worst aviation disaster on French soil, the Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed into the Ermenonville Forest north of Paris, killing everyone onboard. The aircraft had taken off from Orly Airport and was bound for London Heathrow en route Istanbul. Design flaw and the inability of the Moroccan baggage handlers to comprehend instructions in Turkish and English were the attributed reasons behind the crash.


Tenerife Airport Disaster

Date: March 27, 1977

Casualties: 583

 An explosion at the Gran Canaria airport in Spain resulted in diversion of several flights to Tenerife Airport. Of these were the ill-fated KLM Flight 4805 and Panam Flight 1736. that collided on a foggy runway. The disaster occurred when KLM aircraft tried to attempt take -off without getting clearance while the Panam aircraft was still at the runway and had missed a turning to leave. The two flights collided on the runaway claiming the lives of 583 passengers on board both the flights. About 61 passengers from the Panam survived the collision. Miscommunication, lack of ground radar and dense fog were attributed for this fatal disaster.


Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163

Date: August 19, 1980

Casualties: 301

This is deemed as one of the weirdest accidents in aviation history. All 301 passengers onboard the Saudi Arabian Airlines died on the runway of Riyadh airport. The flight took off from Riyadh and was on its way to Jeddah. In a few minutes, the flight returned to Riyadh as a fire broke out in the cargo segment of the flight. Upon landing, instead of evacuating all the passengers on an immediate basis, the pilot chose to taxi the aircraft towards the airport and halted on the runway for almost three minutes. The rescue team took another 23 minutes to get to the aircraft. All this delay led to the death of all passengers due to smoke inhalation.


Japan Airlines Flight 123

Date: August 12, 1985

Casualties: 520

Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed into Mount Takamagahara in central Japan, making it one of the deadliest crashes of all time. The ill-fated flight was enroute Osaka from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Just about 12 minutes later, the aircraft experienced explosive decompression that resulted in loss of rudder and all the manoeuvring systems and hydraulic systems. The cockpit crew could no longer control the aircraft and ultimately crashed in a mountain ridge. There were four female survivors who were seated in the middle in the rear of the aircraft. In fact, the impact of the disaster was so distressing that about a month after the crash, a Japan Airlines maintenance official attempted suicide and left a note quoting “I am atoning with my death”.


Air India Flight 182

Date: June 23, 1985

Casualties: 329

 Termed as the most fatal terror attack in the aviation history, The Air India Boeing 747 crashed near Ireland on its way from Toronto to Sahar International Airport in India. The plane crashed as a bomb planted in the cargo hold by Sikh extremist group Babar Khalsa went off while the plane was flying over Atlantic. The suspect was believed to be ‘M Singh’ who though checked in but did not board the flight. Many security lapses on part of the Canadian authorities were found during an investigation which enabled easy access to the terrorists.


Iran Air Flight 655

Date: July 3, 1988

Casualties: 290

This crash took place during the Iran-Iraq war. Airbus A300, a civilian aircraft was shot down by the US Military. The flight was flying in the Iranian airspace and its territorial waters. But the US Military mistakenly identified it for an F-14A Tomcat fighter plane. Several attempts were made by the US Military to contact the Iranian aircraft, but they failed to connect. Finally, the flight was shot down by the surface-to-air missiles from USS Vincennes. In 1996, as per a settlement in the International Court of Justice, the US paid a $213,103.45 per passenger compensation to Iran.


Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision

Date: November 12, 1996

Casualties: 349

On the fateful day of 12th November 1996, a mid-air collision occurred between Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907, killing all passengers aboard both the flights. The collision occurred a few minutes after the Saudi Arabian flight took off from New Delhi and Kazakhstan flight was about to land at the Delhi airport. The unavailability of secondary surveillance radar at the Indira Gandhi Airport was suspected to be behind the fatal accident. However, the ultimate cause was attributed to the lack of English language skills of Kazakh commander who failed to comprehend ATC instructions.


American Airlines Flight 587

Date: November 12, 2001

Casualties: 260

The crash of the American Airlines Flight 587 is deemed as the worst ever crash in the history of the United States. The flight had routine operations between JFK International Airport, New York City and the Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo. The flight crashed in Queens, New York, a few minutes after take-off. The crash took place just about 2 months after the 9/11 attacks, raising concerns of terrorist involvement. But investigations revealed pilot error as the root cause of the crash. All the 260 passengers on board were killed.


Air India Express Flight 812

Date: May 22, 2010

Casualties: 158

On 22nd May, An Air India Express Flight 812 was headed to Mangalore from Dubai. Mangalore airport has a tabletop runway. So, the length of the runway is considerably reduced due to mountainous topography. Moreover, there is a gorge at one end making this airport not very safe for landing. The pilot of the Air India Express Flight 812 misjudged the usual touchpoint and as a result, the aircraft veered way beyond the runway and fell down the cliff. As a result, the aircraft caught fire and disintegrated. About 158 passengers on board lost their lives with just 8 passengers surviving the crash.


Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

Date: March 8, 2014

Casualties: 239

 Who can forget the spine-chilling disappearance of Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH 370? The aircraft simply went off the radar en route Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Despite many nations joining in a collective and extensive search operation across the Southern Indian ocean, there was no trace of the lost aircraft. In July 2015, a flaperon presumed to be of the ill-fated aircraft was discovered on Reunion Island at a distance of 3,700 km from the main focal point of search. About half a million USD was spent in the most extensive and expensive search operation in the history of world aviation.


From the above brief accounts, we can gauge that there can be several reasons for a flight to go awry and result in unthinkable disasters. Today, in the aftermath of such and other mishaps, steps such as the installation of advanced aviation technologies and better-trained personnel have been taken to make air travel safer. However, the role of human judgement still cannot be negated.

Deadliest plane crashes

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