An airplane crash is one of the most harrowing and terrifying potential events in the modern world. Anytime a plane crashes, it is big news. Whether it was the tragic crash of LaMia Flight 293 that killed the vast majority of the Brazilian football (soccer) team Chapecoense late last year, the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that wholly consumed cable news a few years back, or the infamous crashes on September 11, 2001, few catastrophes in this often dangerous and sad world quite grab our attention like a plane crash. Plane crashes are also often used in pop culture as the basis of a plot in a movie, TV show, or book, such as in Lost or Alive!, the latter of which was based on a true story.
Having said that, for all of our preoccupation with them, plane crashes are pretty rare. According to an article from Curiosity.com, which has statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board, planes crash at a rate of one for every 1.2 million flights! So while you’re very unlikely to be on a flight that crashes, if it does crash, you’re screwed, right? Actually, no. The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million. So don’t let articles like this scare you off of air travel. (Although, perhaps articles about how much carbon is produced from air travel should scare you.) Regardless, people have died in aircraft crashes. So let’s take this moment to remember them and see what insight we can get about their last moments of life. Here are 15 last words from people who in aircraft crashes.
15. “Good Night. Malaysian Three Seven Zero.”
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed on March 8, 2014. While these might seem like appropriate final words, this was not a profound emotional goodbye, but rather a run-of-the-mill goodnight. Spoken by the pilot in command, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, to Lumpar radar, nothing was amiss at this point. There was just no need for further correspondence with Lumpar radar. Flight 370 was meant to contact Ho Chi Minh City when it entered Vietnam airspace, but no contact was ever made. Another pilot tried to contact 370 when they failed to report to Ho Chi Minh City, but only heard static and mumbling.
Analysis of satellite data has determined that 370 veered far west of its flight plan to Beijing. The aircraft is believed to have crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, perhaps vertically. Debris of the plane has washed up on Réunion and Africa, but the bulk of the aircraft has never been found despite the largest and most expensive multinational search in aviation history. Theories about what happened include everything from a hijacking, an electronic hijacking, a cyber attack, the plane being shot down, a fire on the plane, a suicide attempt on the part of Captain Shah and/or other crew members, and many others. For now, at least, the answer is a mystery.
14. “Actually, These Conditions Don’t Look Very Good At All, Do They?”
In addition to being the final words ever recorded from Captain Jim Collins, they were also the winning entry in 1979’s “Greatest Understatement Contest.” No, Captain Collins, the conditions were not very good and they were a great deal worse when you slammed your DC-10 into Mt. Erebus in Antarctica. Air New Zealand Flight was an Antarctic sightseeing flight that ran from 1977 to 1979 which took passengers from Auckland to over Antarctica for a few hours and then back to Auckland via Christchurch. On November 28, 1979, however, the plane tragically crashed into Mt. Erebus on Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew members on board.
Air New Zealand initially claimed that the crash was due to pilot error, but further investigation uncovered “an orchestrated litany of lies” on behalf of the airline and that the actual cause of the crash was that the airline had corrected the coordinates of the flight path the night before the flight but had failed to inform the crew of the correction. Thus, Captain Collins thought he was flying over the McMurdo Sound when in actuality, he was moments away from colliding with Mt. Erebus.
13. “That’s It. I’m Dead.”
Blunt, to the point, and sadly, accurate. These words were spoken by the captain of Surinam Airways Flight 764 on June 7, 1989. The flight was close to arriving at Paramaribo-Zanderij International Airport in Suriname after having left Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol several hours earlier. Unfortunately, errors by the captain and his crew meant that the plane hit a tree and subsequently crashed, killing 176 of the 187 on board, including 15 Surinamese professional footballers who played for various Dutch clubs. Due to an administrative error, the 66-year-old captain was cleared to fly the McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62 he was piloting, despite being too old to do so. He flew the plane recklessly low and was clearly aware of the gravity of his error before the final impact occurred.
12. “It Is Very Hot…I See Flame.”
The reason this article uses the word “aircraft” instead of “plane” is because not all these crashes concern aeroplanes. Indeed, this crash may not have involved any aircraft, but rather a spacecraft! If it happened at all…
The controversy concerns the Judica-Cordiglia brothers, two Italian amateur radio operators who claimed to have intercepted Soviet cosmonaut transmissions. One such transmission, purportedly from May 23, 1961, is of an unidentified woman speaking nervously in Russian asking if her air/spacecraft is going to destroy itself before stating the eerie line above. Such transmissions fall into line with a conspiracy theory that the Soviet Union had attempted (and maybe succeeded) in putting a human into space before Yuri Gagarin’s famous flight, but that the cosmonauts involved all died, and so the USSR covered it up. While cover-ups were by no means beyond the Soviets, many skeptics cast doubt on the theory saying that with U.S. and other Western satellites, we would have known if the Soviets had entered space before Gagarin. Furthermore, the grammar and diction used by this woman and other alleged cosmonauts on the Judica-Cordiglia recordings is not the formal and proper Russian we would expect from cosmonauts. Then again, if she were about to die…
11. “Amy, I Love You.”
I’m bending the rules here a little bit because while these may have been the last words of First Officer Warmerdam in the plane crash, they were not his last words ever because, thankfully, he managed to survive the ordeal. Furthermore, these may not have been the words he spoke at all. It has also been reported as part of a dialogue between Warmerdam and fire chief Steve Chadwick:
Warmerdam- “Tell my wife, Amy, that I love her.”
Chadwick – “No sir, you tell her that you love her, because I’m getting you out of here.”
That may sound too cinematic to be believable, but the crash of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 definitely happened. On August 21, 1995, the Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia crashed near Carrollton, Georgia shortly after it took off from Atlanta. The crash was attributed to a flaw in the design of the plane’s propeller. While all 29 on board survived the initial crash, nine people died in the ensuing fire caused by the impact.
10. “Pete, Sorry.”
On July 5, 1970, Air Canada Flight 621 crashed on a farm in Brampton, Ontario, close to Toronto International Airport, where it was meant to land for a stopover from Montreal to Los Angeles. Instead, the Douglas DC-8 crashed into the runway at Pearson due to a disagreement and then a miscommunication between Captain Peter Hamilton and First Officer Donald Rowland about when to arm the ground spoilers. Ultimately, Hamilton told Rowland to arm the spoilers earlier than they had agreed upon, and Rowland misunderstood and deployed them instead. Hamilton managed to lift the plane back up for another go-around but the damage from the initial crash had caused parts of the plane to fall off and eventually led to a fuel leak which ignited and then caused an explosion. All 109 on board died. The last intelligible thing that could be heard was First Officer Rowland apologizing to Captain Hamilton.
9. “Open The Goddamn Door!”
Germanwings Flight 9525 is a bit different from the other flights on this list. For one, the crash was intentional. Second, although it was intentional, it was not an act of terrorism or a hijacking gone wrong. On March 24, 2015, the Airbus A320-311 Barcelona-El Prat Airport en route to Dusseldorf in Germany, but it crashed north-west of Nice in the French Alps.
The cause of the crash was the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz. Lubitz had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies and was deemed “unfit for work.” However, Lubitz managed to hide this from his employers. Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, Captain Patrick Sondenheimer left the cockpit momentarily. Lubitz seized this opportunity to lock the cockpit door and steer the plane into the mountains. The cockpit recorder was able to capture somebody yelling, presumably Sondenheimer, at the deranged Lubitz from outside the cockpit shortly before the crash. All 150 on board died. Shortly after the crash, many airlines as well as the European Aviation Safety Agency instituted rules that at least two people, including a pilot, should be in the cockpit at all times.
8. “Roger, Uh, Bu- [Cut Off In Mid-word]…”
Often, the last recorded voice in a crash of any kind is not a clear intelligible sentence. Sometimes, there is yelling and sometimes, there is background noise that obscures whatever is said. And sometimes, like in this case, the last words of the individual is cut off. This was the last transmission from the Columbia spacecraft before it exploded re-entering the atmosphere on February 1, 2003. A piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank and struck the left wing of the orbiter. When Columbia re-entered the atmosphere of Earth, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the spacecraft to become unstable and break apart. This was only the second time in the Space Shuttle Program that a fatal accident occurred, the first being Challenger in 1986.
7. “I Rely On God.”
Halloween of 1999 proved to be the ultimate terror for those on board EgyptAir Flight 990. All 217 on board the Boeing 767-366ER died after it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of Nantucket. Because the crash occurred in international waters, The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) was tasked with the investigation. But they transferred the investigation over to the much better-funded American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB investigated a while before proposing to transfer the investigation yet again, this time to the FBI, as the NTSB believed that a crime had taken place. The ECAA refused, so what we get are two conclusions. The ECAA concluded that the crash was the result of a mechanical failure. The NTSB concluded that the crash was deliberate, caused by the actions of relief First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti.
The cockpit voice recorder recorded Al-Batouti saying the above words (in Arabic) repeatedly while, after returning from the lavatory, Captain Ahmed El-Habashi asks, “What’s happening, what’s happening?” This sequence of events appears to support the NTSB’s theory, but why would Al-Batouti do this? There is little from his life to suggest that he was an Islamist terrorist, and if he were, it is odd that he chose to crash the plane into water and not into a city. He may have been suicidal and/or suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his service in the Yom Kippur War. But we just don’t know.
6. “What? There’s What?”…“Some Hills, Isn’t There?”
VASP Flight 168 was a passenger flight that left Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 8, 1982 en route to Fortaleza. It never made it to Fortaleza. The Boeing 727-212 crashed into terrain on its descent. The cockpit voice recorder recorded this back and forth (in Portuguese) in the moments just before the crash:
First Officer: Can you see there are some hills in front?
[Sound of altitude alert]
Captain: What? There’s what?
First Officer: Some hills, isn’t there?
There were indeed some hills. An Investigation found that the captain, possibly disoriented due to bright lights of Fortaleza, continued the descent well below the 5,000-foot (1,524-meter) clearance limit, despite being warned twice by the altitude alert system, and also the co-pilot of the terrain ahead. The subsequent crash killed all 137 on board.
5. “We Are Running On Line North And South.”
Here, we have possibly the biggest mystery of all on this list. This was the last confirmed transmission from famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. The line in question was 157-337 and her transmissions seem to indicate that she thought she had reached Howland Island’s charted position, which she had not. She was near the end of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in her Lockheed Electra 10E along with her navigator, Fred Noonan. They left Lae, Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937. This was the last confirmed sighting of either of them.
Earhart was having transmission problems. The USCGC Itasca could hear most of her transmissions relatively well, but Earhart could not hear them. At this point, she was running low on fuel. There are many theories about what happened to Earhart. All involve the transmission problems, running low on fuel, and being unable to locate the flat Howland Island in cloudy conditions. Most believe one of three things: Earhart and Noonan died when they crashed into the Pacific Ocean, or they died when or after they landed on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), or they were captured by the Japanese Army on Saipan in the Marshall Islands. Regardless, to this day, the fate of Earhart and Noonan remains unsolved.
4. “There He Is…Look At Him! Goddamn That Son Of A B– Is Coming!” / “Get Off!”
These dramatic words were spoken on March 27, 1977 by Captain Victor Grubbs and First Officer Robert Bragg. They were attempting to land their Pan Am Boeing 747-121 at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife. They were speaking about another plane. Specifically, to a KLM 747-206B that was attempting to take off at the same time. This is the only entry on this list that involves two planes colliding with one another.
Both flights had been, along with several others, re-directed from gran Canaria Airport due to a terrorist incident there. In the confusion, overcrowding, and fog, the two planes collided via a severe tail strike in something of a T-bone position. Everybody on board the KLM flight died, as well as all but 61 on the Pan Am flight, resulting in a total of 583 fatalities. It remains to this day the deadliest accidental (that is, non-intentional) crash in aviation history.
3. “Are You Ready? Okay. Let’s Roll.”
The two deadliest crashes in all of aviation history were not accidental. They were the two planes that were flown into the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001 by Al-Qaeda terrorists. However, the death toll on that day would have been even higher if not for Todd Beamer and several other courageous passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93.
The flight took off from Newark and was scheduled to land in San Francisco. However, approximately 46 minutes after takeoff, four Al-Qaeda terrorists stormed the cockpit and hijacked the plane. Several passengers and flight attendants on the plane heard of the three other attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and figured out what was happening. They resolved to attack the hijackers and wrestle away the controls, even though it would almost certainly mean their death. And it did. The Boeing 757-222 crashed in Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania. The words above were spoken by passenger Todd Beamer to the other passengers right before they began their revolt. It was heard by telephone operator Lisa Jefferson to whom Beamer was connected when he tried to call his wife. These final calls that several passengers and crew made to their loved ones are as heartbreaking as the people themselves were courageous.
2. “No Need For That, We Are Okay, No Problem, No Problem.”
In stark contrast with the grave and knowing words from those on United Airlines Flight 93, we have these words by (probably) the flight engineer of Saudia Flight 163 on August 19, 1980. Honestly, it’s been difficult to confirm details of this incident, and it’s entirely possible that these were not the flight engineer’s final words. Between documents that have been over 37 years and translations and misreportings, it’s tough to say.
What we do know was that Saudia Flight 193 left Riyadh after a stop over from Karachi, Pakistan en route to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Most of the 301 on board were Saudi or Pakistani, and many were religious pilgrims. All of them died. Shortly after the Lockheed L-1011-200 TriStar left Riyadh, a fire ignited in the cargo hold. The cause of the fire is still unknown. Why the flight engineer tried to downplay the fire is also unknown. He may have just panicked and he may have had dyslexia which caused him to misspeak. Either he and/or the captain made some poor decisions following the fire and the plane subsequently crashed.
1. “That’s All Guys! F—”
And this pretty much sums it all up. Vladivostok Air Flight 352 left Yekaterinburg, Russia on July 4, 2001, headed for Vladivostok in the far east of Russia. As the flight approached Irkutsk for its planned stopover, the pilots deployed the landing gear but the co-pilot noticed the Tupolev Tu-154M was banking at a 45-degree angle. He violently pulled the nose of the aircraft up, causing it to stall. The plane was too low to recover, and it crashed into the ground, killing all 145 on board.
Flying is hard and really complicated. We’re lucky we have so many pilot engineers and air traffic controllers who can make it go so smoothly 99% of the time. But in those rare instances when it does all go wrong, there’s not a lot you can do. You can say “sorry,” you can send out your love, you can pray, or you can just say “f–.”
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