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The 20 Worst Airplane Crashes in World History

plane crash

While air travel is considered the fastest and safest mode of transportation, it is not always that safe. Over the years, there have been several major air accidents and crashes that involve commercial flights. Airplanes continue to be modernized by increasing their passenger capacities and even including many up-to-date features in the flights. The main reason behind the new developments and expansion of air travel was to help reduce the casualties caused by airplane accidents and improve customer experience. In this guide, we will take a closer look at the 20 worst airplane crashes in world history caused by human error, harsh climatic conditions, or mechanical failure.

20. The Grand Canyon Mid-Air Collision (1956)

By the 1950s, airplane travel expanded beyond the rich and powerful, becoming one of the most preferred modes of transport. The late 1950s ushered in commercial air travel that was very affordable but saw the dawn of one of the first devastating airplane crashes of the decade. On 30th June 1956, a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 crashed with a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 above Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The collision resulted in the death of 128 people who were on-board both flights. These planes had left Los Angeles International Airport minutes apart, with the DC-07 (Flight 718) bound for Chicago and the L-1049 (Flight 2) headed for Kansas City. This fatal accident resulted in the establishment of the Federal Aviation Agency and significant upgrades to the American air traffic control systems.

19. The New York Collision (1960)

Five years after the Grand Canyon Collision, one of the worst airplane crashes occurred in New York. On 16th December 1960, a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 collided with a United Airlines Douglas DC-8, killing approximately 128 passengers and six people on the ground. According to Owlcation, both aircraft departed from Idlewild Airport, which is now JFK International Airport. One of the main contributing factors to this fatal accident was that the DC-10 (United Flight 826) was flying beyond its clearance limit due to its high rate of speed. The collision caused plenty of damage, where several buildings were destroyed, such as a funeral home, a Laundromat, and the Pillar of Fire Church.

18. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (1974)

Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (The McDonnell Douglas DC-10) crashed into the Ermenonville forest just outside Paris. The plane crash was due to a design flaw and the error of Moroccan baggage handlers who misunderstood the instructions provided to them in both Turkish and English language. As a result, the plane's rear cargo latch blew open mid-flight, causing rapid decompression and cable damage that made the pilots lose control over the aircraft. The depressurization also caused massive damage to the engine, and a partial floor collapsed in the passenger cabin. The collision claimed the lives of 346 passengers who were on board. After the accident, strict policies and regulations were introduced regarding aircraft repair to prevent the occurrence of such a disaster again.

17. Tenerife Airport Disaster (1977)

The 1977 Tenerife Airport Disaster is one of the worst disasters in aviation history that began with a bomb blast at Gran Canaria airport in Spain. This forced several flights to divert to Tenerife Airport, including the ill-fated Pan Am Flight 1736 and KLM Flight 4805. Due to the absence of ground radar, miscommunication, and dense fog, the two planes accidentally collided with each other on the ground, claiming the lives of the majority of the passengers. It was later reported that about 583 passengers onboard both flights died, with only 61 of the 396-passenger Pan Am Flight1736 surviving.

The pilot of the KLM Flight 4805 began to accelerate for takeoff before he had received clearance to do so from air-traffic controllers while the Pan Am plane was still on the runway. As a result, both airplanes collided on the runway, where the KLM flight burst into flames, killing all the passengers onboard. To date, the Tenerife Airport disaster is considered the worst non-terrorism-related aviation accident in the world.

16. Air India Flight 855 (1978)

On New Year's Day 1978, Air India Flight 855 departed for Dubai from Santa Cruz Airport in Mumbai. The 747 Boeing used for Flight 855 was the first of its kind bought by Air India in 1971. Unfortunately, the plane did not get very far and crashed into the Arabian Sea minutes after takeoff. The tragic incident occurred as a result of equipment malfunction and the crew's failure to respond appropriately to the situation. It was reported that all 213 passengers on board died, making it the second worst aviation accident in India.

15. American Airlines Flight 191 (1979)

The 1979 American Airlines Flight 191 occurred when one of the engines of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 planes on the left wing separated from the aircraft and flipped over the top of the wing. This caused massive damage to the plane and completely damaged the hydraulic fluid lines. As a result, the plane instantly went into a roll, turned over a number of times, and tumbled into a nearby field. According to Cleartrip, the accident was caused by faulty maintenance procedures by the aircraft personnel, claiming the lives of all 273 passengers on board. The 1979 American Airlines Flight 191 is considered the second worst airline accident in the United States.

14. Air India Flight 182 Bombing (1985)

On 23rd June 1985, a bomb was detected aboard Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to London. The plane crashed off the coast of Cork, Ireland. Inderjit Reyat, a Sikh extremist, was the main suspect linked to the plane bombing, who was later tried and convicted. The accident claimed all 329 passengers onboard, of which 280 were Canadian citizens. In 2016, Reyat was released by the Canadian authorities after serving twenty years.

13. Japan Airlines Flight 123 (1985)

The 1985 Japan Airline Flight 124 is considered the worst air accident involving one airplane. The crash involved a Boeing 747 carrying 524 passengers when it crashed into the mountainous terrain at Mount Takamagahara, Tokyo. According to Sentinelassam, Flight 123 departed from Haneda Airport in Tokyo and was heading to Osaka. The aircraft suffered an explosive decompression within twelve minutes of the flight, causing the loss of hydraulic and rudder systems. While crippled the pilot's control over the plane, the crew managed to keep it airborne for another thirty minutes before it finally crashed into a ridge. Investigators later determined that the cause of the explosion in the rear pressure bulkhead (which protects the aircraft from exploding and maintains pressure) was improper repair after an accident more than seven years before the crash. Luckily, four passengers survived the crash.

12. Pan Am Flight 103 (1988)

On 21st December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. The plane had been in flight for about thirty minutes to New York when there was a blast. The explosion claimed all 259 people onboard. Investigators eventually discovered fragments of a time and circuit board, concluding that a bomb caused the explosion.

11. Iran Air Flight 655 Crash (1988)

In 1988, the invasion of Iran by a neighboring country, Iraq, led to the destruction of Iran Air Flight 655. The United States Vincennes were exchanging fire with the Iranian ships in the gulf when Iran Air Flight 655 departed from Bandar Abbas International Airport. The Vincennes confused the commercial aircraft for a military plane and fired two missiles at the airliner. Unfortunately, all 290 people onboard died, making the Iranian official believe the plane attack was a purposeful assault on the Iran civilians.

10. United Flight 232 (1989)

On 19th July 1989, United Flight 232 departed from Denver to Chicago when the tail engine in the aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure. As a result, the plane's hydraulic lines were severely damaged, making the pilots lose control over the plane. The pilots bravely tried to save the aircraft by any means possible and were able to land the plane at the nearest airport. From the 296 passengers onboard, it was reported that 185 of them survived. After a lengthy investigation, it was revealed that there were some malfunctions with the plane's engine and safety systems.

9. China Airlines Flight 140 (1994)

On 26th April 1994, China Airlines Flight 140 appeared on fire and moved unsteadily through the air before crashing down on the runway. According to Popular Mechanics, the plane pitched sharply and crashed, killing 264 out of the 271 people aboard. While it is still not clear the main cause of the crash, it is believed that human error and negligence are possible causes of the accident. The 1994 crash remains one of the worst aviation accidents for China Airlines.

8. Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision (1996)

On 12th November 1996, Kazakhstan Airlines collided with Saudi Airlines Flight 763. The collision occurred minutes after the Saudi Arabian flight departed from New Delhi, while the Kazakhstan flight was preparing for its arrival. The Kazakh pilots misinterpreted instructions from air traffic control and landed too quickly on their approach to Delhi airport. This put them directly in the path of the Saudi plane, causing a collision and claiming 349 lives.

7. 1996 Air Africa Crash

On 8th January 1996, the Africa Air Antonov 32 crashed into a market in Kinshasa, Zaire. The aircraft attempted to take off, but it was filled beyond its passenger and cargo capacity, causing it to run beyond the runway and crash into the market. The crash claimed 225 and 348 lives; only six crew members survived. Investigators concluded that the plane was taking off illegally and did not have the required clearance to operate the flight.

6. Air France Flight 4590 (2000)

On 25TH July 2000, Air France Flight 4590 took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris en route to JFK Airport in New York. The plane ran over debris during takeoff and accidentally blew a tire, kicking up debris that struck the craft's left wing causing the crash. According to Aviation Disaster Law, the accident claimed the lives of all 113 people onboard.

5. American Airlines Flight 587 (2001)

In January 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a neighborhood in Queens, New York, claiming the lives of all 260 people aboard and five people on the ground. It is thought that the crash is due to rudder overuse. This causes the vertical stabilizer to detach from the aircraft. This crash is considered the second worst aviation accident in American history.

4. Lion Air Flight JT 610 (2018)

On 29th October 2018, Lion Air flight JT 610 accidentally fell into the ocean 13 minutes after takeoff. This is from Jakarta in Indonesia. The plane had 189 people, including 181 passengers, who all lost their lives. The new Boeing 737 Max had only flown 12 miles before the crash.

3. Air India Express Flight 812 (2010)

The 2010 Air India Express Flight 812 crash is the country's third deadliest plane accident. The airliner was heading to Mangalore from Dubai. According to Ranker, the plane's pilot miscalculated the landing and landed beyond the designated touchdown point. However, as a result, the aircraft flew past the runway and fell over the cliff, claiming 158 lives. Only eight people survived.

2. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (2014)

The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 made headlines worldwide in 2014 when the plane crashed outside Ukraine under mysterious circumstances. The plane mysteriously disappeared, becoming an international tragedy and sensation. After extensive searches of the southern Indian Ocean, one scrap is found. There were no survivors out of the 298 passengers on board. However, it was later reported that the plane was shot down by a military missile, possibly by a Russian missile.

1. 9/11: Terrorist Hijacking (2001)

On 11th September 2001, two Boeing 757s and two Boeing 767s were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists. The first two aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the third airplane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the last plane, intended to crash into the White House, fell down in a field in Pennsylvania. It was reported that 2,996 people were killed in these attacks.


Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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