Aerospace & Defense

The Nine Most Common Airplane Accidents

5. Odors
> No. of accidents: 5
> Pct. of all accidents: 3.7%
> Most recent occurrence: July 12, 2012

Odors on flights can be far more serious than a few passengers forgetting to close the lavatory door. In five accidents since the beginning of 2010, odors on commercial flights caused illness. In most cases, the cause of the smell was either unknown or still under investigation. In some instances, just the flight crew fell ill, although passengers were affected in other cases. In a Continental Airlines flight between San Antonio and Houston, passengers complained about burning eyes and breathing problems. One person needed to be taken to a hospital and four others were treated onsite. The FAA later attributed the problem to an “unknown substance on board.” A U.S. Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Rome had to divert to Philadelphia following complaints of foul odor. In addition to the five crew members taken to the hospital, the FAA said four people were injured and 13 people declined medical treatment.

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4. Decompression
> No. of accidents: 5
> Pct. of all accidents: 3.7%
> Most recent occurrence: April 14, 2012

Gradual decompression can happen from a simple problem such as a leaky door, and it is generally a minor issue, Herbst said. Rapid decompression, however, is extremely serious but also extremely rare. In 2010, an American Airlines Boeing 757-200 flying from Miami to Boston had to make an emergency descent and release oxygen masks to passengers after a hole opened up in the body of the plane, causing rapid decompression. The next year, a Boeing 737-300 operated by Southwest, and flying from Phoenix to Sacramento, had to be diverted after a five-foot-long hole opened up, leading to a sudden decompression. Although no serious injuries occurred, Southwest eventually found five of its other 737s had similar unexposed cracks.

3. Bird strikes
> No. of accidents: 7
> Pct. of all accidents: 5.2%
> Most recent occurrence: December 15, 2012

Although birds striking planes are very common, according to Herbst, they usually do not result in accidents. Still, since the start of 2010, there have been seven different serious accidents as the result of bird impacts. In one 2010 incident, a flock of birds struck the windshield of an American Airlines MD82 that had just taken off from Dallas-Fort Worth, damaging the aircraft and requiring the flight to return to the airport. In July 2012, a bird struck the nose cone of a United flight preparing to land in Denver. This resulted in a large hole in the front of the plane and ruined the plane’s instruments used for monitoring airspeed.

2. Landing gear problems
> No. of accidents: 8
> Pct. of all accidents: 5.9%
> Most recent occurrence: June 6, 2011

There have been eight instances since 2010 in which landing gear did not work the way it should, leading to plane damage and injuries. The landing gear problems came in different forms, including tires catching fire and brakes not properly deploying during landing. While landing gear issues are not that uncommon, Herbst noted, they are one of the least serious accidents that could happen during a flight. “If you’re a pilot and you’re going to have an accident, that’s probably the one you’d like to have,” he said.

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1. Turbulence
> No. of accidents: 71
> Pct. of all accidents: 52.6%
> Most recent occurrence: April 4, 2013

Turbulence-related accidents are by far the most common type that airlines experience. Among the different injuries that passengers and crew have suffered from turbulence were broken wrists and broken ankles. In certain cases, fliers who were not wearing a seat belt have even hit the cabin ceiling. Earlier in 2013, on an American Eagle flight to Chicago, two flight attendants and one passenger were injured when the plane encountered severe turbulence. Last year, turbulence on a flight from Aruba to Miami injured 12 people, five of whom had to be hospitalized.

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