For over decades and centuries the inability of man to conquer the skies has proved to be a prickly point. To not be able to spout wings and fly like a bird has always been a contentious point for us human, and in our own ways, we have been trying to get over our powerlessness and be the champion of the skies.
With the Wright brothers’ maiden flight, avenues opened up, and thus the aviation industry was born. Plane after plane were modeled and made, so that the first ‘rough’ idea of an air borne plane was honed and made into a multi-million dollar luxury industry – the industry of commercial aviation. On an average about 4 million people fly on commercial flights every day – this translates into more than 1.7 billion people flying around the world, annually – in just the United States, some 30,000 flights take off each day.
Measures have not only been taken to make the longer flights and the entire experience of flying in general as comfortable as possible – but they have also been taken to make the process of flying safe and secure. Even with all the stringent of measures taken; air disasters are quite commonplace. Case in point: the recent air crash in Mangalore, India of the Air India Express Flight. A 158 people died, while eight of them miraculously survived this catastrophe.
Over the years, there have been a number of harrowing air disasters. According to statistics, in the past decade alone, more than 2000 people have died in air crashes. Here we recall some of the worst disasters that have taken place in the recent history.
The Tenerife airport crash
Known as one of the deadliest disaster ever in the aviation history, the Tenerife airport disaster happened in 1977 and resulted in the deaths of 538 people in Canary Island. A number of key factors, including very heavy fog caused this collision between two Boeing 747 passenger aircrafts – the Pan Am flight 1736 and the KLM flight 4805. All 248 aboard the KLM flight were killed instantly; however because of heavy fog, rescue workers were unaware of the involvement of the Pan Am flight for over 20 minutes.
There were 61 survivors of the Pan Am flight 1763, but over 335 fatalities from both the flights. In total, 538 people lost their lives, in what is unarguably one of the deadliest accidents in the history of aviation.
The Charkhi Dadri collision
Collision between Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763, a Boeing 747 and a Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907, an IL76 resulted in the deaths of 349 people, near Delhi. The crew of the Kazakh plane disobeyed direct instructions and actually flew lower than their stated altitude. This resulted in the death of all 312 passengers on board the Saudi flight, as well as all 37 that were on board the Kazakh flight.
Capt. Timothy J Place, a pilot for the US Air Force was the sole eyewitness of this collision aptly describes the horrific scene as ‘the cloud suddenly flashes into bright red’. In all, 348 people were killed in what is known as the Charki-Dadri collision.
The Air India Crash of 1985
The aviation industry is no stranger to terrorism. The ill-fated Air India flight AI 182 was flying to London from Toronto and was only 45 minutes away when it suddenly disappeared from the radars. At first no one knew exactly what happened, but it was later on revealed that a probable bomb planted inside the flight had caused it to crash.
Arrests were made, but it was almost two decades later that Inderjit Singh Reyat confessed and was jailed. There were no survivors; all 329 people on board were killed as a result of this act of terror.
The Saudia Flight 163
In August 1980, a Karachi-bound Lockheed L1011-200 TriStar operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines caught fire in mid-air. The captain safely landed the plane back at Riyadh Airport but for reasons unknown, the crew delayed evacuation of the passengers. By the time the crew was ready to start evacuation the entire plane was engulfed in a flash fire, killing all 301 passengers and crew on board.
It was later found out that inadequate rescue efforts caused the deaths of over 300 people – the highest death toll involving a Lockheed, anywhere in the world.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007
In a flight bound from New York to Seoul, all 269 passengers and crew on Korean Air Lines KL007 are killed when they are shot down by a Soviet fighter. According to claims, it accidentally veered off course and flew into the prohibited airspace resulting into it being shot down. At the height of the Cold War during the 1980s it resulted in an escalation of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States.
All the information regarding the gunning down of the flight was released almost a decade later with the change of government. The International Civil Aviation Organization later points out the loss of lives of 269 people to the lack of ‘alertness and attentiveness on the part of the flight crew’.
The Mt. Osutaka Crash
A Boeing 747 of the Japan Air Lines flight 123 crashed near Mt. Fuji after takeoff from Tokyo, killing all but 4 of the 524 people on board. Faulty repairs and mechanical failures were later put out as the cause of what remains to be the single most deadly aviation disaster.
The maintainance supervisor of JAL later committed suicide, while the president of the airline resigned and offered a formal apology to the victims’ families. In total 520 people were killed as the result of the crash which remains one of the deadliest ever aviation accidents.
The Belle Harbor crash
265 people were killed in this air crash including 5 fatalities on the ground when an American Airline Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor New York in November 2001. With the pictures of September 11 fresh in people’s minds, a lot of people suspected terrorism as the cause of this crash, but terrorism was officially ruled out by the NTSB.
This crash was the second deadliest in the history of US aviation, resulting in the deaths of all 260 people aboard the flight as well as 5 people on ground.
The almost eighty-year history of commercial aviation has had its share of disasters resulting in the deaths of many, but the numbers by a wide margin are on our side. Among other things, flight safety procedures have been vastly improved but accidents are a fact of nature. All things considered, we should be comfortable with taking to skies, which we are, a fact which translates into billions of people flying worldwide every year.