The Most Incredible Plane Crashes of All Time

Although 2007 was the safest year on record to be in an airplane, it still doesn’t stop some from tightening their seat belts and grabbing their chairs with white knuckles during takeoffs and landings. If that sounds like you, don’t worry, not all of these planes crash, some are just accidents that result in the plane getting goofy in the air but landing safely.

Others involve, ya know, death and should be avoided by anyone with an overdeveloped sense of decency.

At least your ghost can probably fly – December 29, 1972

Wreckage in the Everglades

Wreckage in the Everglades

The crew of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 had a similar problem on 12/29/1972, although with much more tragic results. Preoccupied with fixing one of the landing gears, the crew went into a holding pattern. When the captain got up to help, he bumped the plane’s yoke, removing the plane from auto-pilot. Flying at night, the crew had no ground reference and detected their descent too late to avoid crashing into the Everglades.

In the crash and coming weeks, 103 people died as a result of the accident. After an investigation and recovery efforts cleared mechanical failure, spare parts from the plane were cannibalized and used on other aircraft. However, with the spare parts, Eastern Air Lines employees began to report seeing apparitions of the captain and flight engineer on those other airplanes. Several movies and a book are based on the incident, not, however, "Aviation for Dummies."

Technically, not an accident – October 8, 1947

So have you heard the one about the captain riding in the jump-seat who walks into the cockpit and engages the gust lock? It happened in October, 1947. It was just supposed to be a little joke, a prank, but then the pilot rolled the elevator trim tab in response and the plane became inverted. Since neither the captain nor the pilot were wearing safety harnesses, they fell hard onto the controls, reducing power to engines one, two and four with their heads.

And it’s lucky they did, too, since it was only with the reduced power that the strapped-in co-pilot pulled out of the dive 350 feet from the ground. I’ll bet they laughed about that one in the bar that night.

Get that man a Eurail Pass – December 1, 1959

A compass is not a piece of equipment you expect to fail. There’s not much to simplify as I understand the technology. Take a magnet, if it points north it shouldn’t ever stop pointing north. But when Allegheny flight #371 put their trust in their compass, they made a fatal error. A false reading during an instrument landing in Williamsport, PA saw the plane assume the fly’s traditional role as Bald Eagle Mountain played the windshield.

Of the 22 passengers and four crew aboard, the sole survivor was a man who was found at the top of a tree, still buckled into his seat. It was the second time a plane he was in had crashed.

Technically, two accidents – June, 28 1965

On June, 28 1965, the front landing gear on the Clipper Friendship failed as it was coming in for a landing at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco. Made of recycled but refurbished parts, the plane dropped to its nose, skidding to a stop on the tarmac on its nose.

The plane was nearly empty, no one was hurt. So why is this one of the most interesting plane crashes of all time?

Earlier that morning, as a 707 bound for Hawaii was taking off, the passengers felt a bump. The pilot came on: "We seem to have a bit of a problem with an engine…"

Then, out the right window, an explosion rips off 25 feet of wing. The pilot: "Ladies and Gentlemen, we seem to have a BIG problem." This pilot was a straight shooter.

Fortunately, in addition to his dry sense of humor, he was also a competent flyer.  He landed the plane safely at a nearby Air Force Base and the airline arranged for a plane to come pick up the passengers. Waiting for a ride to Hawaii, a plane full of shaken, plane-wary passengers watched as the Clipper Friendship came in for a landing and the front landing gear buckled.

The deadliest plane crash of all time – March 27, 1977

A computer recreation of how this crash happened

A computer recreation of how this crash happened

The deadliest plane crash of all time is interesting not only for the lives lost, but also for the factors contributing to the crash that seem to stretch the limits of coincidence.  An explosion at another airport and a terrorist threat was diverting traffic to Los Rodeos Airport (now Tenerife North Airport), but that was only one factor in the disaster. It was a confluence of bad luck, bad weather and bad judgment (not to mention two jumbo jets) that killed 583 people.

Both planes involved in the crash were bound for Las Palmas airport, on the neighboring Canary island. But when a terrorist bomb exploded at Las Palmas, major air traffic diverted to Tenerife, a local airport without the space to handle so many planes. When KLM Flight 4805 taxied toward take off, they had to proceed to the end of the runway, turn 180 degrees and fly off in the opposite direction. Pan Am Flight 1736 followed them, intending to exit the runway before the KLM flight turned.  But Pan Am 1736 took the wrong exit off the runway, and a miscommunication between the control tower and the pilot resulted in the KLM pilot taking off without clearance.

But even all of these factors would not have resulted in a crash if it weren’t foggy that day. With the reduced visibility, the pilot couldn’t see Pan Am 1736 on the runway and with a full plane of passengers, a full tank of fuel and a short runway, the plane couldn’t get off the ground in time. There were 61 survivors.

In the event of a water landing, blame the co-pilot – August 21, 1963

The worst part of running out of gas in your car is facing the people passing you, with the implication that you thought you were smarter than the gas gauge.  The pilots of the flight Tupolev 124 know the feeling better than most.

During a flight to Moscow, the nose gear undercarriage failed to retract and the flight was rerouted to Leningrad because of fog. The plane began circling the city to expend fuel and reduce the chances of a fire in the event of a crash landing.

As the plane did 15-minute loops around the city, the crew used a pole from the closet on board to try to force the landing gear into the correct position. Such focus and concentration went into these efforts that the pilots missed the signal that the plane was running out of fuel. When they finally checked, it was too late to make it back to the airport. Their only choice was to land the plane in the Neva River. A passing tugboat hooked a cable to the inside of the plane and towed the boat to shore, where all 52 aboard disembarked safely.

Get that man a girlfriend – July 23, 1999

Rated E for everyone, except this guy

Rated E for everyone, except this guy

A man on All Nippon Airways on 7/23/1999 forced his way into the cockpit with a knife shortly after takeoff and demanded that he be allowed to fly the plane. This modern D.B. Cooper didn’t want fame, fortune or political gain, he was a fan of flight simulators and wanted to fly a real plane.

Using his knife, he ordered the co-pilot out of the cockpit and ordered the captain to head toward an American Air Force base in Western Tokyo. The captain refused, so the man stabbed him and took the controls. Although he did not crash the plane, it did dip to within 984 feet of the ground. The man was overpowered by the co-pilot and another crew-member after the drop in altitude, and the plane landed safely. The captain died of his wounds.

Filed under: featured