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The 10 Deadliest Plane Crashes in History

Deadliest plane crashes

The 10 Deadliest Plane Crashes in History

When you board your plane this holiday season, you will probably find your seat and settle in without a second thought. Why not? After all, tens of thousands of planes take off and land safely every day. However, you’ve surely wondered what happens when an aircraft malfunctions or someone makes a mistake. Keep reading to learn more about history’s deadliest plane crashes if you dare.

10. Pan Am Flight 103 (December 21, 1988)

Flight 103 from New York to Germany exploded due to a bomb planted by Libyan extremists.

In August 1988, heightened tensions between the United States and Lybia led to the US Navy downing two Lybian fighter jets over the Mediterranean Sea. As retaliation, extremists planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 heading to New York from Germany. The plane exploded as it headed to its layover stop in London, crashing in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland.

All people on board, as well as bystanders on the ground, died in the crash. A total of 270 people lost their lives. The act, known as the Lockerbie Bombing, was the second major plane bombing in three years, spurring counterterrorism measures on an international scale.

9. American Airlines Flight 191 (May 25, 1979)

Flight 191 crashed in an open field just outside O’Hare. All 271 passengers and crew members died.

In 1979, an American Airlines McDonell Douglas DC-10 took off from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, heading to Los Angeles, California. However, just moments after the plane left the runway, the left engine separated. 

Causing major damage to the left wing and hydraulic systems, Flight 191 crashed in an open field just outside the airport. All 271 passengers and crew members died, and people on the ground also died from falling debris.

Our #4 deadliest crash also involved a McDonell Douglas DC-10. Unfortunately, the company wasn’t thorough enough following the previous crash just five years earlier. With two of history’s deadliest plane crashes within five years, McDonnell went under investigation. This led to rigorous changes led by national and international aviation authorities. 

8. Iran Air Flight 655 (July 3, 1988)

US Navy cruiser USS Vincennes inadvertently shot down an Iran Air plane, killing all 290 people on board

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Just two years leading up to the Gulf War, building tensions between the United States and Iran led to disputes. The largest of which was an accidental shooting down of an Airbus A300B2-203 heading to Dubai, UAE. As a result of several errors and miscommunications, US Navy cruiser USS Vincennes mistook the plane for a fighter jet. It fired two guided missiles, exploding the Airbus and killing 290 passengers and crew members.

The United States’ handling of the incident led to major controversy. The US Navy refused to admit liability for shooting down the aircraft, and wouldn’t pay compensation to the victims’ families until 1996, over eight years later. This deadly plane crash inevitably played a role in the war years to follow.

7. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 (July 17, 2014)

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER like this one crashed in the Ukraine in 2014. There were no survivors.

In July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 left Kaula Lumpur International Airport carrying passengers of several nationalities to the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands. However, as the Boeing 777-200ER passed over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Crashing near the village of Hrabove, all 298 people on board lost their lives.

As a result of entering the dangerous area, which took place between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists, the deadly plane crash triggered international investigation. Countries including Malaysia, the Netherlands, and even Australia played a role in the search for an answer. Finally, in 2019 it was determined that Russian military units were responsible for the shooting.

6. Saudia Airlines Flight 163 (August 19, 1980)

301 people perished due to a fire on Saudia Airlines Flight 163 out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In August 1980, Saudia Airlines Flight 163 began its takeoff from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Jeddah in the same country. Normally a routine flight, overheating of the plane caused cargo to ignite, setting the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar on fire. 

By the time the crew was able to abort the departure and evacuate, the flame had grown out of control. Despite best efforts, No one was able to exit the burning plane, and 301 people perished.

Although it was one of the deadliest plane crashes in history, Saudia Flight 163 did not receive an international response.

5. Air India Flight 182 (June 23, 1985)

A Boeing-747 from Air India crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 1985, tragically killing all 329 people on board.

One of the deadliest plane crashes in history occurred in June 1985, when a Boeing 747-237B departed for Mumbai, India from the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport in Canada. At the time, Sikh separatists were pressuring for an independent Khalistan state in Punjab. Seeking international attention for their cause, extremists planted a bomb in the cargo hold, which exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.

Air India Flight 182 disintegrated in the air and crashed, tragically killing everyone on the plane. 329 passengers and crew members perished in the ocean. As a result of the terrorist attack, Canada undertook investigations, leading to the conviction of two involved Sikh separatists. The devastating plane crash led to enhanced security measures at airports around the world.

4. Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (March 3, 1974)

Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed in France due to mechanical failure. All 346 people perished.

Unlike some of the previous incidents on this list, the Turkish Airlines Flight 981 was one of the deadliest plane crashes that resulted not from an attack, but from mechanical and personnel failure. 

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flight from Paris, France to Istanbul, Turkey didn’t make it out of its departure country due to a cargo door failure. Unable to latch, the plane’s carbon decompressed at a rapid rate, causing the pilot to lose control. The DC-10 went down in the Ermmenonville Forest near Senlis, France.

The mechanical failure led to the deaths of all 346 people on board. The crash profoundly affected the aviation industry, with McDonnell reevaluating its safety standards for parts and processes.

3. Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision (November 12, 1996)

Due to language barriers between air traffic control and pilots, Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 collided with Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907.

It’s incredibly rare that two planes crash into each other, but when they do, it leads to especially devastating results. One of the deadliest cases of this occurred in 1996, as Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 departing from Delhi, India collided with Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 heading to that same Indian airport.

The cause of the mid-air collision stemmed from the language barriers between air traffic control and pilots. Unable to understand each other, both planes ended up on the same flight path and altitude. All people on both aircraft died, with a total of 349 victims.

2. Japan Airlines Flight 123 (August 12, 1985)

520 passengers and crew lost their lives when Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed into Mount Takamagahara.

In August 1985, Japan Airlines Flight 123 took off from Tokyo, Japan headed to Itami. The departure was smooth, but 12 minutes into the flight, the Boeing 747SR’s rear pressure bulkhead failed. It caused the cabin to decompress, resulting in a loss of control.

The pilots did what they could, but the tail of the plane struck the side of Mount Takamagahara, and it went down. Crashing in the mountains, 520 passengers and crew lost their lives. Fortunately for four survivors, they happened to sit in a row of the plane that stayed intact. Still, the Japan Airlines Flight 123 crash was the deadliest single-aircraft incident in history.

1. Tenerife Airport Disaster (March 27, 1977)

A total of 583 people lost their lives in the Tenerife Airport Disaster.

Of all the deadliest plane crashes, the incident at the Tenerife Airport in Spain was the worst. To make matters worse, the planes didn’t even make it off the runway.

On a foggy day in March 1977, the KLM Flight 4805 prepared for takeoff. However, the crew did not receive proper clearance, as the Pan Am Flight 1736 was still taxiing down the same runway. Without knowing the situation and having no vision of the other plane through the fog, KLM 4805 slammed into Pan Am 1736 at 150mph.

In an instant, the KLM plane disintegrated under fire, killing its entire crew and 232 passengers. However, emergency personnel made it to the incident quickly and were able to evacuate people from both planes

Just 122 survivors lived through the crash, including some crew members of the Pan Am flight. However, with a total loss of 583 people, the Tenerife Airport Disaster is the deadliest plane crash in history.

Summary of the 10 Deadliest Plane Crashes

RankFlight(s)Lives Lost
#1Tenerife Airport Disaster: KLM Flight 4805, Pan Am Flight 1736583
#2Japan Airlines Flight 123520
#3Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision: Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763, Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907349
#4Turkish Airlines Flight 981346
#5Air India Flight 182329
#6Saudia Airlines Flight 163301
#7Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17298
#8Iran Air Flight 655290
#9American Airlines Flight 191271
#10Pan Am Flight 103270

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the deadliest plane crash in history?

The deadliest plane crash in history occurred on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747s, operated by KLM and Pan Am, collided on the runway at Tenerife’s Los Rodeos Airport, resulting in 583 fatalities.

Is it safe to fly on a plane?

Flying on a commercial airplane is statistically one of the safest modes of transportation with stringent safety measures in place.

When was the last plane crash?

The most recent significant commercial plane crash was on May 22, 2020, when Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303 crashed in Karachi, Pakistan.

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