The Deadliest Airplane Accidents in History

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  • Image: Toshihiko Sato via Wiki

    Concorde on takeoff with its fuel tank on fire.

    A plane crash is a truly catastrophic incident, whatever size the aircraft, the words and pictures that follow may make you think twice about air travel.

    One of the most infamous – though in terms of lives lost perhaps not the deadliest – was Air France Flight 4590 disaster which took place on 25 July, 2000. As the Concorde involved was taking off from France’s Charles de Gaulle International Airport it hit a piece of debris lying on the runway which burst one of its tyres. Some of the debris struck the plane’s wing, causing one of the fuel tanks to rupture. With fuel leaking, flames engulfed the aircraft, which was unable to climb or accelerate. Its wing disintegrating, the Concorde crashed into the nearby Hôtelissimo, killing 100 passengers and 9 crew on board as well as 4 people on the ground.

    It is impossible to accurately say which were the most horrific plane crashes of the last century, but in terms of lives lost, those featured here are certainly among the very worst.

  • Image: via aviationexplorer.com

    Rendering of two 747 jumbo jets crashing in Tenerife.

    On March 3, 1974, Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed shortly after taking off from Orly airport, in France. 346 people died in the crash, caused by explosive decompression of a detached cargo door, which in turn severed the aircraft control cables, causing the plane to drop from the sky like a stone. This had been the deadliest ever plane crash until the Tenerife disaster three years later.

    The photograph here depicts the moment the worst ever such event took place, on March 27, 1977. The probable cause, cited by the Air Line Pilots Association, was the KLM pilot taking off without clearance. Simply put, the KLM attempted takeoff, even though the Pan Am was still on the runway. The Pan Am tried to get out of the way and the KLM tried to climb over it, but the latter ended belly up after dragging its tail on the ground. The lower fuselage of the KLM plane hit the upper fuselage of the Pan Am plane, ripping apart the center of the Pan Am jet nearly directly above the wing. 583 people on board the two aircraft died.

  • Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

    US Hercules aircraft fuel tanks exploding.

    There are not always images of the moment of impact in such crashes available, but pictures of exploding aircraft are enough to fill anyone with horror. The absolute worst single plane accident ever resulted in 520 dying on board when the Japan Airline Jumbo suffered an explosive decompression from a failed pressure bulkhead repair, making the aircraft virtually uncontrollable. Not a single person from the stricken plane survived. The most catastrophic mid-air collision happened in 1996, when Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 and Air Kazakhstan Flight 1907 crashed into one another over Haryana, India. The collision was ascribed to the Kazakh pilot flying too low. 349 passengers and crew died aboard both aircrafts.

  • Image: via planecrashinfo.com

    Russian aircraft crashing into airport building.

    Since the beginning of the 1980s, terrorism has been responsible for many aircraft disasters. On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 was brought down by an explosion in the cargo hold over Ireland. 307 passengers and 22 crew lost their lives as the aircraft broke up following the blast. Sikh extremists, it later emerged, carried out the bombing as reprisal for the Indian government having attacked the Sikh holy site at the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar.

  • Image: via planecrashinfo.com

    Burned out shell of airliner where 300+ burned to death.

    This image is truly terrifying. On August 19, 1980, a Saudia L-1011 bound for Karachi returned to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, following an in-flight fire that broke out just after takeoff. For reasons still unknown, the plane crew failed utterly to implement evacuation procedures, and before anything could be done, all 301 people onboard had died as the passenger cabin was consumed by a flash-fire.

  • Image: Charles H. Faulker, BM1, USN

    F6-3 Fighter plane crashes when landing on carrier.

    Every fatal plane crash is a tragedy, be it military or civilian, and sometimes there is nothing anyone could have done. On May 25, 1979, an American Airlines DC-10 took off from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, only for an engine to immediately detach and seriously damage a wing. There was simply no chance for any reaction on the crew’s part and the plane disintegrated in a huge fireball about a mile beyond the runway. 273 deaths made this the worst-ever crash on US soil.

  • Image: United States Federal Government

    American B1 bomber with engines on fire as it lands.

    There is little that can terrify as much as a plane crash, even more so when it was no accident. Pan-Am Flight 103 was a Boeing 747-121 that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground, all residents of one street in Lockerbie, died because of this mindless act, making it the worst terrorist attack ever involving an aircraft in the UK.

  • Image: USNavy

    US fighter plane crash-landing fatally on aircraft carrier.

    If it were possible to freeze those horrible events in time at the instant disaster struck, perhaps we could explain why they happened. Yet whatever the causes, there are few things that can be more traumatic than a plane crashing with a huge loss of life.

  • Image: via freedomworks.org

    Devastating impact sites of two jets hitting the Twin Towers.

    Perhaps the final word should be for the deadliest aviation-related disaster of any kind, considering fatalities on both the aircraft and the ground. This was the event in New York on September 11, 2001. Two US passenger-laden aircraft were targeted at the World Trade Centre towers by terrorists, one aircraft striking each tower. 2,752 people died, mostly people from the buildings or emergency personnel. I have never been involved in a plane crash, and I fervently hope I never will.

    Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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