Plane crashes: The worst aviation disasters in modern history revisted


Nepal plane crash: Passenger footage shows horrific incident

Over the hundred-year history of commercial aviation, safety has improved dramatically. However, a series of high-profile incidents over the past few years have re-ignited fears. On Sunday, Yeti Airlines Flight 691 crashed while landing at Pokhara in Nepal. All 72 people on board are believed to have died, making it the country’s deadliest crash in 30 years. On Monday, a spokesman said the plane was cleared for landing, and the pilot had not reported “anything untoward” on approach. Despite this, flying is safer than ever. Aside from drastic improvements in aircraft technology and pilot training, stricter regulatory environments ensure all procedures are consistently followed, and even the most minor mishaps are learned from.

According to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, there is an average of one fatality for every 287 million passengers carried by British airlines – compared to a one in 19 million chance of being struck and killed by lightning or a one in 17,000 chance of dying on the road.

Isolated incidents still occur around the world, however, notably in places where safety standards aren’t as stringent as in the UK – but far less often than in the past. Looking back at some of the most notable disasters in history shows how far the industry has come.

The first commercial jet airliner crash took place on May 2, 1953. Shortly after taking off from Calcutta in India, British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 783 suffered a structural failure and broke up mid-air, killing all 43 passengers and crew on board.

The plane was a de Havilland Comet, designed and built in Britain and the world’s first passenger jet. The Calcutta crash took place on the first anniversary of its entry into service and was followed by two more fatal incidents in less than a year, prompting an extensive redesign that ultimately saw the type replaced by the Boeing range we know today.

Nepal crash and disaster chart

Air fatalities today are far less common than they were in the 20th century (Image: GETTY, EXPRESS)

Candlelit vigil in Nepal

Candlelit vigils were held in Kathmandu for the victims of the crash on Monday (Image: GETTY)

The deadliest accident in aviation history to date occurred on March 27, 1977, in Tenerife. As a result of poor visibility and a communication mix-up with air traffic control, two Boeing 747 aircraft – the largest capacity “Jumbo Jets” in operation at the time – collided on the ground, killing 583 people.

A bomb scare at the Canary Islands’ main airport had left the smaller Los Rodeos Airport overwhelmed with unscheduled flights. KLM Flight 4805 had initiated its takeoff run while Pan Am Flight 1736 was still on the runway, the impact leaving only 61 survivors.

The case has since become a textbook model for accident prevention and introduced many processes still used today in mishap and crash investigations.

READ MORE: Chilling footage from inside doomed Sea World helicopter

The worst aviation disasters in history

The worst aviation disasters in history (Image: EXPRESS)

The site of the Tenerife crash

The Tenerife runway collision remains the deadliest aviation disaster in history to this day (Image: GETTY)

Despite the Tenerife disaster claiming more lives on board than any other, the most lives ever claimed as a result of a plane crash numbers over three thousand, on September 11, 2001.

American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were both hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center in Downtown New York. The impact of the planes killed all on board both aircraft instantly and caused the death of many more as the towers collapsed less than two hours later.

The deadliest mid-air collision in the world saw Saudia Flight 763 hit Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 over 10,000 feet above the Indian village of Charkhi Dadri on November 12, 1996.

Travelling in opposite directions, the impact sent both planes into an uncontrolled descent towards the ground, killing all 349 people on board – the third-highest death toll from an aviation incident to this day.

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Lockerbie wreckage

Suspects connected to the Lockerbie bombing are still being pursued more than 30 years on (Image: GETTY)

Not all aviation disasters stem from mechanical or human error. Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot down over Ukraine.

A missile was launched at the Boeing 777 by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.

This was the second incident involving a Malaysian Airlines flight in a matter of months following the disappearance of MH370 on March 8 – perhaps the most mysterious case of all.

With 237 passengers and crew on board, the Boeing 777 lost contact with air traffic control 38 minutes after take-off from Kuala Lumpur, overflying the South China Sea. Almost nine years later, the plane has never been found in its entirety, and the cause of the crash continues to be the subject of debate and conspiracy.

The deadliest single-aircraft accident involved Japan Airlines Flight 123, which crashed into Mount Takamagahara in Japan on August 12, 1985, after the Boeing 747’s rear pressure bulkhead burst, causing an explosive decompression in the cabin. A total of 520 passengers and crew lost their lives.

Just four days before Christmas in 1988, a bomb detonated on Pan Am Flight 103, causing the Boeing 747 to crash in the Scottish village of Lockerbie. A total of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents lost their lives in what remains both the UK’s deadliest aviation disaster and terrorist attack.

On July 25, 2000, Air France Flight 4590 – a Concorde – crashed shortly after takeoff when debris on the runway caused a tyre to explode and rupture the main fuel tank, killing all 109 on board. Despite being the only fatal accident involving the supersonic jet, the crash hastened Concorde’s eventual removal from service just three years later.

And, lastly, a fire broke out on board Saudia Flight 163 – flying from Karachi in Pakistan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia – on August 19, 1980. Despite the pilots successfully executing an emergency landing in Riyadh, the crew failed to perform an evacuation, resulting in all 287 passengers and 14 crew dying on the tarmac from smoke inhalation.


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