Plane crashes are extremely rare. But unfortunately, errors do sometimes occur that result in tragic endings. Throughout history, there have been several deadly aviation crashes that are still talked about to this day.
Here’s a ranking of the 15 deadliest crashes in aviation history. Sadly, we know you’ll remember No. 1.
15. Nigeria Airways flight 2120
There were 261 fatalities. | Ayotography/Getty Images
This Nigeria Airways flight took off from Saudi Arabia and was headed to Nigeria when it broke apart mid-flight. An investigation proved that maintenance personnel noticed the tire pressure was low and allowed the aircraft to takeoff anyway. Two tires blew upon takeoff, which started a fire that eventually took over the entire aircraft. The plane tried unsuccessfully to make an emergency landing. Unfortunately, no one on board survived.
Next: This airline pilot made a deadly mistake.
14. China Airlines flight 140
There were several errors during the flight’s landing. | Mike_Kiev/iStock/Getty Images
China Airlines Flight 140 took off from Taiwan and was headed for Japan. The flight ran perfectly smoothly, but on its final approach, the co-pilot accidentally hit the wrong button, which inadvertently switched the plane into the wrong “mode.” The co-pilot attempted to fix the error, but the auto-pilot acted against the co-pilot’s changes. The plane stalled, and since it was so close to landing, there was not enough altitude to fix the problem. The plane crashed about 340 feet away from the runway. There were seven survivors.
Next: Turbulence lead to pilot error, which resulted in tragedy.
13. American Airlines flight 587
A tragic accident | Ep_stock/iStock/Getty Images
Fatalities: 265 people, 1 dog
This passenger flight left from John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York on its way to the Dominican Republic when it crashed into a neighborhood about three minutes after takeoff. The cause of the crash was determined to be a pilot error as a result of turbulence from the plane that took off before it. Air traffic controllers warned the pilots that there could be jet wash (turbulence that comes from another plane passing through air) from a Japan Airlines flight that took off moments earlier. There was jet wash, and the co-pilot overused the plane’s rudder controls in an attempt to avoid it. But unfortunately, the pilot’s actions caused the plane to crash. All 260 people on board were killed, plus five people and one dog on the ground.
Next: Autopilot lead this airplane into forbidden airspace.
12. Korean Airlines flight 007
Sometimes, accidents do still happen. | WeatherlyHammond/iStocik/Getty Images
This South Korea-bound flight left from Anchorage, Alaska with 269 people on board. But the autopilot deviated from the plane’s flight path and flew over prohibited Russian airspace. Because of the Cold War, Russia’s military shot down the plane with several missiles. It crashed in the Merion Sea, killing everyone on board. The U.S. altered tracking procedures from aircraft that departed from Alaska as a result of the crash.
Next: An investigation found that a bomb had lead to this plane’s demise.
11. Pan Am flight 103
270 people lost their lives. | Esinesra/iStock/Getty Images
Pan Am flight 103 was a flight traveling from Germany to Detroit. The flight exploded — seemingly out of nowhere — in the sky, killing all the passengers on board. 11 people on the ground were also killed. Upon further investigation, it was determined that a bomb had caused the explosion, not a mechanical error. It turned out a Libyan airline employee named Al Megrahi had created a bomb and snuck it on to the Pan Am flight. The plane crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the incident became known as the Lockerbie Bombing. Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 27 years under Scottish law.
Next: American Airlines was faulted for this fatal crash.
10. American Airlines flight 191
A horrifying and shocking accident. | Muratani/iStock/Getty Images
American Airlines flight 191 was intended to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles. The plane crashed just moments after takeoff when the engine beneath the left wing detached and took part of the wing with it. As a result, the left wing could not function properly and the aircraft stalled. The hydraulics were also affected, and the plane flipped on its right side and crashed into a field just past the runway. It ignited into a massive fire because its fuel tank was so full. The cause of the crash was determined to be improper maintenance by the American Airlines staff.
Next: The U.S. Navy made a deadly mistake with this plane.
9. Iran Air flight 655
The plane was mistaken for an enemy plane. | Gabriellephotos/iStock/Getty Images
This passenger flight was intended to travel from Iran to Dubai, but it was shot down by the U.S. Navy in Iranian airspace. The U.S. Navy had been exchanging fire with Iranian forces. The plane was mistaken for an Iranian fighter jet, so the U.S. Navy shot several missiles its way, bringing down the plane and killing everyone on board. Tensions with Iran had been heightened since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. And today, the U.S. and Iran still are not on the best terms.
Next: A lack of quick action resulted in hundreds of fatalities on this flight.
8. Saudia flight 163
The passengers were not able to exit the plane to safety. | Mora Valdes/iStock/Getty Images
This flight took off from Saudi Arabia but quickly caught fire about seven minutes in. The pilots made an emergency landing, and the descent went as planned. But once the plane was on the runway, the pilot did not immediately stop the plane and order an evacuation. 23 minutes had passed by the time emergency personnel opened the doors and accessed the passengers. By then, everyone on board had died of smoke inhalation.
Next: Strong winds lead to pilot error in this crash.
7. Islamic Revolutionary Guard crash
The plane crashed into nearby mountains. | Bullstar69/Getty Images
In 2003, a plane carrying members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard crashed into the mountains in Iran during its descent. The cause was determined to be pilot error, but strong winds played a significant role. The plane made a controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) landing. This occurs when a plane inadvertently crashes into terrain without a mechanical error bringing it down. Today, it is still the deadliest plane crash on Iranian soil.
Next: A revenge-seeking bomber killed hundreds on this flight.
6. Air India flight 182
The bombs caused the deaths of many people. | Bullstar69/Getty Images
The Air India tragedy is the second bombing on the list. The plane was on its way from Vancouver to Delhi when a bomb exploded and sent the Boeing 747 into the Atlantic Ocean. The man convicted in the bombing, Inderjit Singh Reyat, had also planted another bomb on another plane that killed two baggage handlers. Reyat claimed the bombs were revenge for Indian troops storming India’s Golden Temple in Amritsar. Reyat has since been released from prison.
Next: An improperly-secured door wreaked havoc on this aircraft.
5. Turkish airlines flight 981
The plane crashed into a forest. | Manifeesto/Getty Images
Flight 981 was on its way from Turkey to London but made a connecting stop in Paris before heading to the United Kingdom. The flight then took off from Paris, and shortly after takeoff, the rear left cargo door blew off. It dramatically affected the pressure in the cabin and throughout the plane. The pilots quickly lost any control of the aircraft, and it crashed into a forest in France. There were no survivors. An investigation showed that the door had not been properly secured by employees prior to the flight taking off.
Next: Yes, mid-air collisions are possible.
4. Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision
Two planes collided against each other. | Tisha85/iStock/Getty Images
In 1996, a Saudia Airlines commercial aircraft and a Kazakhstan commercial aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision that killed all 349 people on board the two. The Saudia plane had just taken off, and the Kazakhstan plane was cleared for descent at an airport in New Delhi, India. Air traffic controllers warned the planes of one another, but by the time controllers called back to the planes, there was no response. The planes had collided over the Indian village of Charkhi Dadri, and both fell to the ground.
Next: This Japan Airlines crash killed more than 500 people.
3. Japan Airlines flight 123
The plane experienced a mechanical error. | Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
A Boeing 747 carrying 524 passengers and crew crashed into mountains in Japan shortly after takeoff in 1985. Trouble occurred when the plane experienced a sudden decompression 12 minutes into the flight. It ultimately affected various systems aboard the flight, including all of its hydraulic systems, leaving the plane nearly impossible to control. An investigation found that a faulty tail repair that had been made to the plane a few years earlier ultimately caused the crash.
Next: This is labeled the deadliest aviation collision in history.
2. Tenerife Airport disaster
There were only 61 survivors. | Xmagic/Getty Images
The Tenerife Airport disaster occurred when two planes mistakenly took to the runway at the same time, leading to a full-on collision that killed 583 people. Miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers was the cause of the crash, with one airplane’s crew misunderstanding a signal to start takeoff. The second plane, taxiing down the runway at a much slower speed, realized something was wrong and attempted to get out of the way. But it was too late, and the planes collided. Of the 644 people involved, only 61 survived. It is still one of the most talked-about air disasters around the world.
Next: This pre-meditated attack killed thousands.
1. September 11 attacks
The attacks killed thousands of people. | ErimacGroup/Getty Images
Perhaps the most well-known airline disaster in the world is the September 11 attacks. Several planes were hijacked by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group. Two planes intentionally crashed into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, and a third plane intentionally crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth plane was likely headed for the White House, but it was taken down by its passengers. In total, nearly 3,000 people were killed in the event that forever altered history.
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