Many of us share a fear of flying – jumping into a metal tube that soars through the sky and entrusting our safety to air hostesses and suited-up pilots. Every time a flight takes off or lands we hold our breath with anticipation praying for a seamless landing because, let’s get real, planes do crash and no amount of safety videos telling us how to manually inflate our life vest is going to change that!
While there is a downward trend of aviation accidents happening, there are still more than five fatal accidents per year, with the most risky moments occurring at the end of our flight; landing is when we are most likely to die. And does your pilot look good in that suit? He better because humans really do make mistakes – more than 50% of all fatal plane crashes are caused by pilot errors, 2.5 times more likely than mechanical errors.
In recent years, airplane crashes have not only been terrifying, as any large-scale accident is, but rather freaky, leaving us with a lot of questions – how can Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 still be missing after months of searching? Especially in a world that is as technologically savvy and connected as the one we live in? Here’s a look at the 10 of the most terrifying plane crashes to have occurred in the past 15 years.
10. Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo
This crash certainly cannot be counted as one of the most deadly, with only one person killed, and you could argue that it isn’t really an airplane, but it may be one of the most worrying aviation accidents in history. Part of Sir Richard Branson’s attempt to open the market of “space tourism”, the crash occurred over two weeks ago, on November 1st over the Mojave Desert in California; it was the first powered test flight. Branson previously made promises that flights (already 800 people have paid) would be underway by the end of the year but this recent upset suggests that casual, commercial space travel might be a little farther off than people suspected.
9. 2003 Iran Ilyushin Il-76 crash
While no civilians were harmed in the crashing of this aircraft, The Aerospace Force of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution’s 2003 crash, that killed 275 was the deadliest plane crash on Iranian soil. Likely due to the fact that they were carrying out a “secret mission” speculation abounds as to whether bad weather, stated in the official report, is the true cause. Some believe that it was in fact a mid-air collision due to the number of fatalities reported – the plane was overcapacity by at least 75 if that many fatalities occurred. A Libyan terrorist group also claimed responsibility for the attack, but due to their disorganization as the group, it seems like a relatively pathetic fear mongering tactic.
8. Überlingen mid-air collision
This mid-air collision occurring on July 1, 2002 is the most recent aircraft accident of its kind, with a death toll of 71 between the two planes. The collision occurred over two small towns in Southern Germany, with the majority of the dead being children. The accident was determined to be caused by problems in the Swiss air traffic control system. Several months before this information was released things got savage when Vitaly Kaloyev, who had lost his wife and children in the accident, stabbed the air traffic controller who was on duty at the time to bringing the death toll of this tragedy to 72. The Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision is the only mid-air collision to have been more destructive causing the death of 349 people in 1996.
7. American Airlines Flight 587
Only two months after the 9/11 attacks, AA 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighbourhood of Queens, New York City igniting fear across the country that they were once again under attack. The US government took no chances and had several key buildings in NYC evacuated in order to avoid further deaths if the incident were indeed yet another attack. The actual cause of the accident was overuse of the plane rudder system, which caused the vertical stabilizer to fail and the plane to begin spinning uncontrollably at a downward pitch. 265 people died, including 5 people on the ground.
6. Air France Flight 4590
Sometimes debris from fallen previous aircraft is carelessly left on runways and leads to major catastrophes. This is exactly what happened on July 25, 2000 when a flight destined for JFK caught on fire due to a series of unfortunate effects and flying bits of metal. The aircraft, moving far too fast to stop opted to take off and land at a nearby airport. Unfortunately, damage to the wing made gaining altitude impossible and the wing began to disintegrate resulting in the death of over 110 people when it crashed into a hotel.
5. Air France Flight 447
On June 1, 2009 AF447, direct from Rio to Paris, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean just North of Natal, Brazil. Everyone aboard, 228 people, was killed in the crash and due to difficulties in locating the “black box” the investigation continued for 2 years. Though Air France vehemently denied rumours that the crew reacted inappropriately and poorly to a mechanical error (pitot tubes being obstructed by ice crystals during a common tropical storm) it is firmly believed that the two experienced pilots of the three aboard were sleeping when things started to go wrong. People who investigated this crash mentioned that it was not fatigue that led to this deadly catnap, but the “pilot culture” at Air France. In other words, if you want to arrive alive, don’t fly Air France.
4. China Airlines Flight 611
Occurring in 2002, China Airlines Flight 611 reminds us not only that we need to fear mysterious disappearances and irresponsible pilots, but the physical integrity of our actual aircraft. Only 20 minutes after take-off from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, the Boeing 747-209B destined for Hong Kong began DISINTEGRATING mid-air and crashed into the Taiwan Strait killing the 225 people aboard. The investigation deduced that disintegration was caused by poor maintenance 22 years previously – “metal fatigue”, or structural damage due to heavy, repeated loads, was occurring in the aircraft after bad repairs following a prior accident. One can only wonder whether it occurred to China Airlines to scrap the plane after the first mishap or to even consider following any safety standards, but as you can see from the photo, nothing bad ever happens in China!
3. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Perhaps one of the creepiest plane crashes in recent history, MH370 crashed over the Indian Ocean on March 8th, 2014 and seems to have disappeared “without a trace”. Carrying 227 passengers from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China the plane lost contact within the first hour of take off and nothing has been heard since! Countless search-and-rescue operations have been undertaken with an ever-growing search area and still nothing has been found. Conspiracy theories now abound in regards to the plane – it’s actually MH17, the US government shot it down, the US government hijacked it in order to discover Chinese intelligence information, and my favourite, it was flown to Pakistan in order to aid terrorist operations. Think what you will, but we still have no idea where it is…
2. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
2014 was not a good year for Malaysia Airlines. Not 4 months later MH17 went down over Ukraine in the midst of their near civil war. On July 17, carrying 283 passengers from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, MH17 was shot down, or so German and American intelligence operations say, by pro-Russian separatists by a Buk surface-to-air missile. This is a serious war weapon and it is unsure what the motives behind the attack were. MH17 is the deadliest airliner shoot down in history and serves to remind airlines and pilots that avoiding flight paths that cross over conflict zones, regardless of added flight time, is in fact quite a good idea.
1. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the worst attack on U.S soil to have ever occurred. Two planes, hijacked by the terrorist group Al Qaeda crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City two minutes apart, resulting in the death of 2,907 people. These attacks represent not only a terrifying reality of international terrorist networks but changed the way the world approached security, border control, and religious diversity. 9/11 is terrifying not only because it exposed weaknesses in the perceived world superpower, but because of the way it intensified racism and discrimination throughout the Western world. Thankfully, we have yet to see attacks of this magnitude since this incredibly tragic day.
Tenerife Airport Disaster
While this accident didn’t happen in the last 15 years it deserves an honourable mention as it is the deadliest aviation accident in history. The accident occurred in 1977 on the Spanish Territory of Tenerife (Canary Islands) with the collision occurring where we generally feel the safest: the ground. Due to bomb threats at nearby Gran Canaria Airport, flights were redirected to ”safety” at the Tenerife Airport. Unfortunately, bad communication and weather resulted in KLM4805 attempting to take off while Pan Am 1736 was still on the runway resulting in the worst ground collision in history. Only 61 people survived while 583 perished.