The Deadliest Airplane Accidents in History

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.


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.