Aerospace & Defense

The Nine Most Common Airplane Accidents

9. Tail Strikes
> No. of accidents: 3
> Pct. of all accidents: 2.2%
> Most recent occurrence: April 5, 2013

There have been three instances of a plane’s tail striking the runway either during takeoff or landing within the past three years. In one instance, a United Airlines flight that just took off from Sydney en route to San Francisco scraped its tail on the runway. The plane dumped fuel into the Tasman Sea and approached 8,000 feet before it finally turned around. Fortunately, none of the accidents resulted in injuries to any passengers or crew members; however, the planes all suffered significant damage. Herbst said that tail strikes usually are not serious and always the result of pilot error.

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8. Lasers
> No. of accidents: 3
> Pct. of all accidents: 2.2%
> Most recent occurrence: November 16, 2012

While laser pointers have been known to be used by students as pranks during class, they can also be quite dangerous. Between 2010 and 2013, they caused injuries on three different commercial flights. In two of the flights, a pilot sustained eye injuries, while a member of the flight crew sustained an eye injury in the other. The FAA noted recently that laser pointers have become a growing problem due to their widespread availability, stronger power and green laser pointers that are more visible. People who are caught shining laser pointers at planes should o’t expect to get just a slap on the wrist. In March, a U.S. District Court judge sentenced 19-year old Adam Gardenhire to 30 months in prison for shining a green laser pointer at a corporate plane and a police helicopter arriving at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, back in 2012. The pilot of the corporate jet sustained eye injuries.

7. Engine Problems
> No. of accidents: 4
> Pct. of all accidents: 3.0%
> Most recent occurrence: September 14, 2011

Engine failures are extremely common, according to Herbst, and pilots are regularly trained throughout their career to deal with engine problems. Many large planes are able to operate with the power of one functioning engine. “An engine fire, on the other hand, is a very serious thing,” Herbst added. “That requires the pilot to get on the ground as soon as possible.” Since 2010, only two commercial planes operated by U.S.-based airlines have experienced an accident involving an engine fire. In one case, a Delta B752 taking off from Atlanta was required to shut down its left side engine and return to the airport just 10 minutes into its flight after the engine caught on fire. Passengers were required to evacuate using the plane’s evacuation slides. In the evacuation, three passengers were injured.

6. Taxiing Accidents
> No. of accidents: 4
> Pct. of all accidents: 3.0%
> Most recent occurrence: December 27, 2012

Sometimes problems develop on the plane even before take off. There have been four instances of injury and plane damage as the plane was taxiing to the runway since 2010. In May 2011, a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Chicago ran over the foot of a maintenance worker with its nose wheel when backing out of the gate. The worker fractured his heel bone. In December 2012, a flight from Islip, New York, en route to Tampa skidded off the taxiway before reaching the runway, moving off of the asphalt into “soft ground.” Once the plane left the taxiway, the crew called air traffic control and told them, “we just made your day very exciting.”