10 Most Tragic Plane Disasters and Crashes of all time

Ever since the Wright brothers first soared high into the sky on those bird-like mechanical wings we call planes or airplanes, the aviation industry has gotten a lot safer with the passage of time. However, if you have ever been on an airplane that was experiencing massive turbulence, or on one whose controls had just gone haywire, then you would understand how precarious a situation planes can be. At their worse, or in the worst of weather conditions, planes can be very deadly. Exactly how tragic can a plane ride really get? We will let our count down of 10 most tragic plane disasters and crashes of all time do the explaining.

10. Korean Airline Flight 007

Plane Tragedies

Most tragic plane crashes of all time | Korean Airline Flight 007

This air disaster came during the patchy relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. On September 1, 1983, the Korean Airline Flight 007 from Anchorage, Alaska, was supposed to have arrived in Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately, the flight unknowingly veered off its intended destination and found itself in the USSR air space. The Soviets, mistaking this plane for a spy plane, sprang its missile defense system and shot it down. All 269 lives on board were lost. The tragedy will go down in history as one of those grave events that came along with the ranging and bitter Cold War between two superpowers- the United States and the Soviet Union.

09. American Airlines Flight 191 Disaster

Departing from Ohio, Chicago, passengers on board American Airlines Flight 191 barely took off when disaster struck on May 25, 1979. The engines of this plane first broke off, and this led to the wings falling apart. The plane, along with all 271 souls aboard, eventually came to a sad end at a nearby field. Also, two bystanders lost their lives when the plane impacted the field. This crash is the deadliest ever to hit American soil.

08. Iran Air Flight 655 Disaster

At the height of the Iran-Iraq War, an Airbus A3100 that had on board 290 passengers and crew was wrongly shot down by a U.S. missile cruiser on July 3, 1988. This sad incident killed all 290 people on board, including 66 children. According to U.S. forces, this civilian passenger plane was mistaken as an Iranian F14A fighter plane. It was a very tragic incident that complicated the peace process between Iran and the U.S. at that time.

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07. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Another similar case of mistaken identity by a military defense system resulted in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 777-200ER on July 17, 2014. This plane never got to its intended destination and was shot down over Eastern Ukraine (near the Russian border). With 298 people on board, the plane was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, Holland. Prior to the accident, the International Civil Aviation Organisation had sent out several warnings of the threat posed to planes that flew over an area near Torez in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately for the Malaysia Airline, as well as those souls that perished, the flying routes had not been changed by the company.

06. Air India Flight 182 Disaster

Unlike the other crashes on our list, this plane disaster came as result of a deliberate and heinous act of a Sikh extremist, “M Singh”. The perpetrator (s) planted an explosive device in the cargo hole of the Air India flight 182 bound for Mumbai on June 23, 1985. This terror attack caused the Boeing 747-237B plane to crash off the coast of Ireland. The number of deaths was 329. There were no survivors. Findings from the investigation into the attack revealed that there were several security lapses at the Canadian airport. This and many more other factors made it quite easy for the terrorist to sneak on board those explosive devices.

05. Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163 Crash

Trageic Plane Crashes

Most tragic plane crashes of all time | Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163

On August 18, 1980, a Saudi Arabian Flight 163 was bound for Jeddah from Riyadh. Minutes after take-off, the plane (a Lockheed L-1011) was forced to return to Riyadh due to the fire it had experienced in the cargo section of the plane. Now, this is where things turned sour for the lives of 301 people on board. The plane safely lands on the runway, but instead of the crew calling for an emergency evacuation upon landing, the crew decided to wait things out for 3 long minutes on the runway at Riyadh. It also took the airport authorities 23 minutes to access the plane. When emergency officials eventually got access to the plane, all 301 lives had been lost as a result of the smoke they inhaled. Experts later determined the cause of the fire in the cargo section emanated from two butane stoves that were stored in there.

04. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 Crash

This plane crash that occurred on March 3, 1974 is the deadliest plane disaster to hit the Turks. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 was en route to Istanbul from London when its cargo door blew off. This malfunction happened exactly 10 minutes after the plane took off.  The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 plane, which had 335 passengers and 11 crew members, crashed into the Ermemonville Forest in the north of Paris. There were no survivors in this crash. Aside from it being a grave lost to the Turks, the accident is the worst aviation disaster to ever hit French soil. It currently sits as the second most tragic in all of Europe.

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03. Charkhi Dadri Mid-air Collision

Mid-air collisions in the aviation industry are things of rarity. But this was not the case for the souls aboard two planes on November 12, 1996. The collision involved a Saudia Flight 763 and a Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907. The later was heading to Indira Airport from Shymkent while the former journeyed from Delhi to Dhahran. As the Kazakh plane descended onto the runway, the Saudia Flight 763 was also ascending in the opposite direction. The collision resulted in the deaths of 312 on the Saudia Flight and 32 deaths on the Kazakh plane. Aviation officials and investigators would later reveal that the cause of the clash was the result of the Kazakhstan Airline pilot failing to obey specific instructions from the air traffic control officers. Thus, the Kazakh plane had no business descending to 14,500 feet. The pilot should have descended to a height of at least 15,000 feet.

2. Japan Airlines Flight 123 Crash

Most Tragic Plane Crashes

Most tragic plane Crashes of all time | A picture of the Japan Airlines Flight 123

On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines flight 123 crashed. This made it the largest single airplane accident in history. The plane experienced a technical failure (an explosive decompression) that resulted in the pilots and crew making several attempts to rectify it. And even though the plane remained in the air for a good 32 minutes post the technical failure, the Boeing 747 plane eventually landed on its back after its wing clipped a mountain. The plane crashed at Mount Takamagahara in Central Japan and killed 520 people on board. The survivors were just 4. However, experts say that a whole lot of people could have been saved, had the Japanese officials reached the scene of the accident in time. Also, this story would have been less tragic had those officials simply accepted assistance from a nearby US base.

Before we disclose which plane crash sits atop our pick of the most tragic plane crash of all time, here are 5 other tragic mentions:

  • China Airlines Flight 140

Crash Date: April 26, 1994

Plane model: Airbus A300B4-622R

Place of Crash: Near Nagoya Airport, Japan

Cause of Crash: Accidental use of the Takeoff/Go-around button

Death Count: 264

Survivors: 7

  • Air Africa Plane Crash of 1996 – operated by Moscow Airlines

Date of Crash: January 8, 1996

Place of Crash: a Market place close to the Ndolo Airport, Democratic Republic of Congo

Plane model: Antonov An-32B

Cause of Crash: Overloading that resulted in a failed attempt to reach takeoff speed

Death Count: Between 225 and 348

Injured people: 500

Place within history: Deadliest plane crash with the most non-passenger deaths (excluding the Twin Towers terrorist attacks)

  • Air New Zealand Flight 901 Crash

Date of Crash: November 28, 1979

Plane model: McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30

Place of Crash: Mount Erebus, Ross Island, Antarctica

Cause of Crash: Miscommunication of the computer coordinates of the flight

Number of dead: 237 passengers and 20 crew members

  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Date of Crash: March 8, 2014

Plane model: Boeing 777-200ER

Place of Crash: Probably in the South China Sea (Plane remains elusive up to this day)

Cause of Crash: The jury is still out on the exact cause of the crash.

Death Count: 227 passengers and 12 crew

  • American Airlines Flight 587 Crash

Plane model: Airbus A300

Date of Crash: November 12, 2001.

Place of Crash: Queens, New York, U.S.A

Cause of Crash: An overuse of the rudder

Number of dead: 260 on board, plus 5 on the ground

Place in history: 2nd most tragic airline disaster on U.S. soil.

01. Tenerife Airport Disaster

One mention of Tenerife in aviation circles and a quick shiver runs down the spine of the industry. The Tenerife Airport disaster was a colossal tragedy that sent shock waves across the world. It was a huge collision that involved two giant Boeing 747s at the Los Rodeos runway. On March 27, 1977, both KLM and Pan Am received instructions to divert their planes from Las Palmas to Tenerife Airport. As both planes tried to take off, a series of poor communication and confusion ensued between both pilots and the air traffic control team.

Inquiries into this gruesome disaster revealed that the KLM, for reasons still unknown, got impatient and tried to take-off without first securing any clearance from air traffic control. It was at this time that the Pan Am flight was also taxiing along the same runway. With poor visibility on the runway, as well as a host of other factors such as gross negligence and impatience, the two planes flew into each other mid-air. The Pan Am plane had its mid-section clipped by the approaching KLM plane. The result: a catastrophic accident that took the lives of 583 people. Although 61 passengers aboard the Pam Am flight survived, the flight ended up being the bigger loser with 335 deaths.  On the other hand, all 248 passengers on the KLM flight perished.

Watch this very insightful documentary about what took place in the lead up to this tragic plane collision at the Tenerife Airport.

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