If you suffer from Pteromerhanophobia, the fear of flight, best to look away right now because this article is not for you. The rest of you, keep in mind that air travel is one of the safest forms of travel. It may not seem like it to most of us but you are more likely to be killed on a bicycle than in an airplane. The old adage that flying is safer than driving tends to hold true, especially if you are talking about trips over a very long range. So why are so many people uncomfortable or fearful of flying?
First, humans don’t have wings and we are not naturally meant to fly. Second, the vast majority of us are used to driving in cars and riding bikes – it’s a daily routine, whereas flying generally isn’t. Third, some people can feel trapped or not in control when on a plane. Finally, when a plane does crash we see news stories of dozens or hundreds of people killed. These reports tend to be rare, especially when compared with the near daily report of highway fatalities.
Recent studies show that since the 1970s, air travel has become safer with each passing decade. Aircraft-related fatalities have gone from an average of nearly 1800 per year in the 1970s to 500 per year today. New safety procedures, building material and methods, safety equipment and training have all combined to make air travel safer for everyone. Nonetheless, planes occasionally crash (or disappear) and their stories become the focus of news channels around the world.
The following list looks at 10 of the ‘least safe’ civilian aircraft in use today. The data is based on a research done by Airlinerating.com and Aviationsafety.net and assesses which aircraft had the most fatal crashes over the last decade. It is important to note that this list does not look at which planes have killed the most people, just which planes have been involved in the most crashes where someone died. It is also important to keep in mind that the manufacturer isn’t necessarily to blame. The following list has several Russian and several turbo-prop aircraft in it. This doesn’t mean these aircraft are deadly because they are Russian built or because they use turbo-prop technology. Often these aircraft are used in very harsh environments or by smaller airlines with lower safety regulations or less money to operate. Such factors can play a significant role in how reliable an aircraft is and how many times it crashes.
T9. Tupolev 154 – 7 Fatal Crashes
This plane was the workhorse of the Soviet-era and Russian air industry since its introduction in the early 1970s. Recently retired from Aeroflot service, the Tu-154 was the primary domestic passenger liner of Russia. The plane is known to be rugged and is built to operate in harsh environments with minimal maintenance. With a cruise speed of 850 km/h, it is one of the fastest passenger liners, yet, also one of the loudest which has led to it being banned from flying through certain airspaces. In the last decade, there have been 7 crashes with fatalities involving the Tu-154. The worst of these were a 2006 and 2009 crash where all the passengers and crew (170 and 168 respectively) were killed. Today, the Tu-154 continues to see service with over a dozen civilian airlines.
T9. Antonov 32 – 7 Fatal Crashes
This Soviet-era turboprop has been in service since 1976. Built to survive harsh weather and sporting very powerful engines, the An-32 is reportedly well suited to handle take-off and flight in mountainous and tropical conditions. In addition, it can carry 50 passengers and cruises at a speed of 470km/h. These characteristics have made it a favorite of militaries around the world who fly in challenging environments. In terms of passenger service, the An-32 continues to serve with several smaller companies based in countries like Angola, Libya and the Philippines. Unlike the Tu-154, crashes of the An-32 tend to be smaller with far fewer fatalities. For instance, in 2008 a Sudanese An-32 burst into flames upon landing in Maldova, killing all eight people onboard.
8. Antonov 28 – 8 Fatal Crashes
This short range, twin-engine, propeller-driven plane has been in official service since 1986. The An-28 is a small 15 passenger plane with a range of around 500 km. The plane is capable of Short-Take Off and Landing (STOL) which makes it ideal for transporting people and cargo to shorter and isolated runways which are inaccessible to larger jet aircraft. Despite the capabilities of the plane, it remains in operation with just six civilian airlines and 4 militaries – mostly ex-Soviet states or former allies. The An-28 has suffered 8 crashes with fatalities over the past decade. The worst of these involved the death of 27 crew and passengers of a plane carrying members a Congolese football team in 2005. One of the worst recent records is held by Blue Wing Airlines of Suriname who have crashed three of these aircraft since 2008, killing 27 people.
T6. Boeing 737 (early ‘original’ models) – 10 Fatal Crashes
In service since 1968, the Boeing 737 is a popular short-medium range passenger liner used all over the world. The newest models are capable of carrying 215 passengers and cruise at over 800km/h for a maximum range of around 10,000km. Older models, such as the 737-100 and 737-200, are powered by the JT8D engines and cruise at a slower 780km/h with a maximum range of around 4000km. These older models have been retired from the airlines of most developed nations but continue to fly for the smaller airlines and particularly those of lesser developed nations. In the service of airlines with poorer safety records or flying in more challenging conditions, it is unsurprising that the 737 makes this list. One of the more recent crashes involving a 737-200 occurred in 2012 when a Pakistani plane of Bhoja Air crashed killing 127 people.
T6. DC-9 / MD-80 – 10 Fatal Crashes
The McDonnell Douglas DC-9 is a twin engine jet-liner developed to fly frequent short range trips. Introduced in 1965, the DC-9 cruises around 900km/h and can carry up to 135 passengers (depending on the model) with a maximum range of around 3000km. Introduced in 1980, the MD-80 is essentially a lengthened and updated DC-9 which carries up to 170 passengers and can (depending on the model) fly to a maximum range of 4600km. Like the 737, this type of aircraft is very popular and remains in use from Delta and American Airlines to Mali Air. Also like the 737, operators in extreme climates or in developing nations have tended to experience the most accidents over the past decade. In 2012, a Nigerian Dana Air flight lost power in both engines and crashed into a neighborhood in Lagos killing all 153 people on the plane and 10 on the ground.
5. CASA C-212 – 11 Fatal Crashes
This Spanish turbo-prop was introduced in 1974. The C-212 is suited for short range and regional air travel and is considered STOL capable, making it ideal for landing on short and isolated airstrips. The plane is used by more than three dozen militaries around the world and over a dozen civilian airlines, most of them American based. With the ability to carry 26 passengers and a range of approximately 1800km, the C-212 is a popular choice for short-haul and military service. Despite being purpose built to fly in harsh conditions and terrain, the C-212 has suffered its share of loss. In 2011, four C-212 were involved in fatal crashes in Indonesia (2), Canada and Chile. The combined death toll from the crashes was 45.
T3. Antonov 12 – 17 Fatal Crashes
The Antonov 12 is a Soviet-era turboprop used for civilian and military purposes since 1959. At maximum load, the plane can fly 3600km at 670km/h. The most common use of the plane is as a cargo transport although it can carry up to 85 passengers if configured properly. Originally built as a military transport, early models had a rear turret with two 23mm cannons for self-defense. Over the past decade, fatalities involving the An-12 have largely occurred when the plane was being used to haul cargo. The latest incident involved an An-12 which crashed near Irkutsk, Russia, killing 9 people. In 2006, a Chinese copy of the An-12 – known as the Shaanxi Y-8 – crashed with the loss of 40 people after experiencing icing on its control surfaces.
T3. Ilyushin 76 – 17 Fatal Crashes
Introduced in 1974, the jet-powered Il-76 was meant to be a replacement for the An-12. In addition to its four jet-engines, the Il-76 was significantly larger than the propeller-driven An-12, in terms of wingspan and overall length. This beast can carry a 40 to 60 tonne payload 4300km and has even been known to take hits from surface-to-air missiles and heavy machine guns (in Afghanistan) and keep flying. This toughness has attracted many customers and the Il-76 is used by dozens of countries for both civilian and military purposes. Operators include Russia, Ukraine, China and even the United Nations. With such a reputation you wouldn’t expect to see this plane on this list. Accidents are, however, quite common. The worst single incident occurred in 2003 when an Iranian Il-76 crashed, killing 275 people, including soldiers. More recently, an Aéro-Service plane crashed in Brazzaville, killing 37 on the plane and another 26 on the ground.
2. DeHavilland Twin Otter – 19 Fatal Crashes
The Twin Otter is yet another STOL aircraft to make this list. The Canadian built turbo-prop was first introduced in 1966 and continues to remain popular to this day. Capable of carrying 19 passengers, this plane is extremely versatile and can be equipped with skis, pontoons or different types of tires to land on a variety of surfaces. The plane cruises at around 280km/h and has a loaded range of just over 1400km without extra fuel tanks. In addition to widespread civilian use, the Twin Otter has also been employed by militaries around the world and is widely used in nations which are mountainous and have short runways. The most recent incident with fatalities occurred in February 2014 when a Nepal Airlines Twin Otter crashed, killing all 18 people onboard. The worst incident of the last decade also involved a Nepalese Twin Otter and saw 22 people killed when the plane crashed into a forest.
1. LET L-410 – 20 Fatal Crashes
Coming in at #1 on this list is yet another twin-engine turboprop. The L-410 is a Czechoslovakian plane which was introduced in 1970. The plane has STOL capability and can carry 19 passengers at a cruising speed of 365km/h for just under 1400km. Several hundred remain in service today and are often found in service in former Soviet states, Africa and South America. The L-410 is also a popular aircraft with the skydiving community. Over the past decade, the L-410 has been involved in a large number of crashes, many of them fatal. The strangest incident, by far, must be the August 2010 crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The crash was reportedly caused by a stampede of people within the plane as they attempted to get away from a crocodile which became loose in the cabin. Twenty people died but the crocodile survived, only to be killed later.