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Encyclopedia > Lists of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners

Citing the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, an aviation accident is defined as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage. An aviation incident is defined as an occurrence other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations. Other countries adopt a similar approach, although there are minor variations, such as to the extent of aviation-related operations on the ground covered, as well as with respect to the thresholds beyond which an injury is considered serious or the damage — substantial.

Capt. Christopher Stricklin ejected from his USAF Thunderbirds aircraft at an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on September 14th 2003. Stricklin was not injured.


"Flying is not inherently dangerous, but to an even greater extent than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incapacity, or neglect" - anon. quotation familiar to all aviators.

Since the birth of flight, aircraft have crashed, often with serious consequences. This is due to the unforgiving nature of flight, where a relatively insubstantial medium, air, supports a significant mass. Should this support fail, there is limited opportunity for a good outcome. Because of this, aircraft design is concerned to minimise the chance of failure, and pilots are trained with safety a primary consideration. Despite this, accidents still occur, though statistically flying is nowadays an extremely safe form of transportation. In fact, the relative rarity of incidents, coupled with the often dramatic outcome, is one reason why they still make headline news.

Many early attempts at flight ended in failure when a design raised to a height for a launching would fail to generate enough lift and crash to the ground. Some of the earliest aviation pioneers lost their lives testing aircraft they built. See Early flying machines.

Otto Lilienthal died after a failure of one of his gliders. On his 2500th flight (August 10, 1896), a gust of wind broke the wing of his glider, causing him to fall from a height of roughly 56 ft (17 m), fracturing his spine. He died the next day, with his last words being reported as Opfer müssen gebracht werden! ("sacrifices must be made"). Percy Pilcher was another promising aviation pioneer. Pilcher died testing The Hawk (September 20, 1899). Just as with Lilienthal, promising designs and ideas for motorized planes were lost with his death. Some other early attempts experienced rough landings, such as Richard Pearse who is generally accepted to have crash landed (survived) a motorized aircraft in some bushes, unable to gain altitude after launching from it from some height.

The Wright Flyer nearly crashed on the day of its historic flight, sustaining some damage when landing. Thomas Selfridge became the first person killed in a powered airplane on September 17, 1908 when Wilbur crashed his two-passenger plane during military tests at Fort Myer in Virginia.


An accident survey [1] (http://www.planecrashinfo.com/cause.htm) of 2,147 airplane accidents from 1950 through 2004 determined the causes to be as follows:

  • 37%: Pilot error
  • 33%: Undetermined or missing in the record
  • 13%: Mechanical failure
  • 7%: Weather
  • 5%: Sabotage (bombs, hijackings, shoot-downs)
  • 4%: Other human error (air traffic controller error, improper loading of aircraft, improper maintenance, fuel contamination, etc.)
  • 1%: Other cause

The survey excluded military, private, and charter aircraft.

Some well-known aviation accidents

  • World boxing champion Rocky Marciano was killed in 1969, when a plane he was piloting crashed.
  • On New Year's eve, 1972, a chartered DC-6 carrying baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente crashed a few minutes after taking off from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Clemente was flying as part of a relief effort for Nicaraguan earthquake victims. Neither the bodies of Clemente or the others in the plane, nor the plane's wreckage were ever found. An overload of supplies was blamed for the old airplane's crash.
  • In 1979, New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson also died in the crash of a plane he was flying.
  • The Air Canada Flight 143 (a.k.a the Gimli Glider) landed in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada in a crash on July 23, 1983, because the airplane had ran out of gas. The reason why is that it was a metric conversion error while refueling. They used a different math formula. However, few passengers were slightly injured, but no one killed.
  • On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 was exploded by a suitcase with a bomb, making it the single largest terrorist attack before the September 11th terrorist attacks and the largest mass murder in the Canadian history, with all 329 on board. One hour before the disaster, another suitcase with a bomb exploded at Narita Airport when the bomb is being transfered from the Canadian Pacific Air Route 3 to Air India Flight 301. The two bombs were from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
  • The Tenerife disaster which killed almost 600 people is often regarded as the worst-ever accident in Aviation history. (If the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks in New York and Washington are regarded as aviation disasters, rather than as acts of terrorism or warfare, then they account for about 3000 lives, significantly more than the Tenerife disaster).
  • In 1993, two top NASCAR drivers were killed in separate aviation accidents. First, defending series champion Alan Kulwicki was killed when the plane in which he was a passenger crashed while he was on his way to a race. Later, Davey Allison died from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash during a race weekend.
  • In 1999, a private jet that was carrying golf star Payne Stewart crashed in South Dakota with no survivors; it is believed that all on board died from lack of oxygen (hypoxia) when the plane gradually lost cabin pressure early in the flight, while the plane was on autopilot.
  • In 2002, a chartered plane carrying United States Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), his wife, daughter and several members of his campaign staff, crashed before landing in northern Minnesota as a result of wing ice. All aboard were killed.
  • In 2004, a Gulfstream II that was about to pick up former United States President George H. W. Bush crashed before landing in Houston, Texas. All three people on board died.
  • In 2005, in the Kam Air Boeing 737 disaster, a provate passenger jet crashed into a mountainside in Afghanistan killing all 104 on board. It took two days for the wreckage to be discovered.

Commercial airliner accidents

Lists of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners are available sorted:

See also

External links

  • Aviation Safety Network (http://aviation-safety.net/index.shtml), large database of accidents and incidents
  • [2] (http://www.airlinesafety.com/editorials/HumanErrorVsTerrorism), editorial citing examples of most severe consequences of pilot error and other human error
  • airsafe.com A comprehensive American-oriented website on air safety issues and disasters (http://www.airsafe.com/)
  • airdisaster.com A comprehensive website on air disasters (http://www.airdisaster.com/)

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