Aviation incidents grab world attention.
Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the recent Malaysian Airlines MH370 incident, the news was covered extensively by the international media. It was all over social media platforms as well. My facebook and twitter feeds were swarmed with updates and rumours.
On 24 March, following two weeks of search, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said:
“Using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort… Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Just before Najib spoke at 10 pm Malaysia Standard Time, Malaysia Airlines notified the families of the passengers that Flight 370 was assumed lost with no survivors. It notified most of the families in person or via telephone, and some received the following SMS:
“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”
The aircraft carried 12 crew members and 227 passengers from 15 nations and regions, the majority of passengers being Chinese citizens.
My deepest condolence to the family and love ones of all the passengers on board MH370.
Aviation incidents keep everyone anxious because of the high number of victims who may be involved, likely from many different nationalities. Additionally, the incident may transcend international boundaries and requires cooperations and coordinations involving a few countries.
There have been many floating rumours and conspiracy theories on what might have happened to MH370. Examining some of the biggest aviation incidents in recent history, chances are, the real cause of the mishap may be something less mysterious and more human or technical by statistical probability.
What are some of the biggest aviation incidents in recent history? What were the causes?
Only one was due to a terrorist attack while the others were primarily due to human or technical errors.
Here is a recap:
1. September 11 Attacks
The deadliest aviation-related disaster of any kind, considering fatalities on both the aircraft and the ground, was the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001.
On that morning 4 aircraft traveling from East Coast airports to California were hijacked by 19 terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda, with the intentional crashing of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both buildings in less than two hours.
The World Trade Center crashes killed 2,752, the vast majority of them occupants of the World Trade Center towers or emergency personnel responding to the disaster.
In addition, 184 were killed by American Airlines Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon, causing severe damage to the building’s west side, and 40 were killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field, (after passengers fought back against the hijackers). This brought the total number of casualties of the September 11 attacks to 2,977 (excluding the 19 terrorist hijackers).
The Tenerife disaster, which happened on 27 March 1977, remains the accident with the highest number of airliner passenger fatalities.
583 people died when a KLM Boeing 747 attempted to take-off without clearance, and collided with a taxiing Pan Am 747 at Los Rodeos Airport on the island of Tenerife, Spain. Both aircraft were destroyed. There were no survivors from the KLM aircraft; 61 of the 396 passengers and crew on the Pan Am aircraft survived.
Pilot error was the primary cause as the KLM captain thought he had clearance for takeoff due to a communication misunderstanding. Another cause was dense fog meaning the KLM flight crew was unable to see the Pan Am aircraft on the runway until immediately prior to the collision.
The accident had a lasting influence on the industry, particularly in the area of communication. An increased emphasis was placed on using standardized phraseology in ATC communication by both controllers and pilots alike, thereby reducing the chance for misunderstandings. As part of these changes, the word “takeoff” was removed from general usage, and is only spoken by ATC when actually clearing an aircraft to take off.
3. JAL Flight 123
The crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, on August 12, 1985 is the single-aircraft disaster with the highest number of fatalities: 520 died on board a Boeing 747.
The aircraft suffered an explosive decompression from an incorrectly repaired aft pressure bulkhead, which failed in mid flight, destroying most of its vertical stabilizer, severing all of the hydraulic lines, making the 747 virtually uncontrollable.
Pilots were able to keep the plane flying for 20 minutes after departure before crashing into a mountain. Remarkably, several people survived, but by the time the Japanese rescue teams arrived at the crash site, all but four had succumbed to their injuries
4. Air France Flight 447
Air France Flight 447 (AF447) was a scheduled international flight from Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France. On 1 June 2009, the Airbus A330-203 airliner serving the flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of all 216 passengers and 12 aircrew. The accident was the deadliest in the history of Air France. It was also the Airbus A330’s second and deadliest fatal accident, and its first while in commercial passenger service.
While Brazilian authorities were able to locate the first major wreckage within five days of the accident, initial investigation was hampered because the aircraft’s black boxes were not recovered from the ocean floor until May 2011, nearly two years later. The final report, released at a news conference on 5 July 2012, stated that the aircraft crashed after temporary inconsistencies between the airspeed measurements—likely due to the aircraft’s pitot tubes being obstructed by ice crystals—caused the autopilot to disconnect, after which the crew reacted incorrectly and ultimately led the aircraft to an aerodynamic stall from which they did not recover.