Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Airplane Accidents

What is the worst airplane accident in history?

With thousands of accidents since the beginning of aviation history, records differentiate among ground collision, midair collision, and single-aircraft accidents. (Some records differentiate by cause, including pilot error, weather, and fuel starvation.) The worst ground collision—and the deadliest airplane accident in history—was the Tenerife disaster of March 27, 1977, which killed 583 people. Two Boeing 747 airliners ran into each other on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands (Atlantic Ocean). One was a Pan Am flight, “The Clipper Victor,” which originated at Los Angeles International Airport, made a stop at New York’s JFK Airport, and was headed for the Canary Islands; it was diverted to Tenerife at the last minute due to a bomb threat at its destination airport on neighboring Las Palmas Island. The other 747 was a KLM flight, “The Flying Dutchman,” originating in Amsterdam; it, too, was diverted to Las Palmas’s Los Rodeos Airport because of the threat there. On takeoff, the KLM plane slammed into the taxiing Pan Am plane. Heavy fog on the runway contributed to the disaster, but there were communication problems as well: According to tower records, the KLM flight had not yet been cleared for takeoff. Upon collision, the jumbo jets burst into flames; there were only 61 survivors (54 passengers and 7 crew members), all from the Pan Am flight.

The worst midair collision happened on November 12, 1996, over Charkhi Dadri, India: 349 people perished when a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747 collided with a Kazakh Ilyushin Il–76 aircraft. There were no survivors. The worst single-plane accident happened on August 12, 1985, when a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain on a domestic flight, killing 520 people; there were four survivors, all of them passengers.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App