Special Report

The Deadliest Plane Crashes in History

Air travel is among the safest modes of transportation. In fact, you take on greater risk by getting in your car to go to the supermarket. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash in the U.S. in 2020 were 1 in 101, but the NSC also determined there were too few airplane passenger deaths to calculate the odds of dying as an airplane passenger.

A total of 332 people died in aircraft accidents in the U.S. 2020, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, nearly the lowest yearly total since the NTSB data keeping began in the 1960s. Still, air travel tragedies occur, and many of them are seared into the public’s memory. 

To find the worst airplane accidents ever, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Aviation Safety Network’s database on collisions and accidents. These accidents were ranked by the number of fatalities. All other data comes from the Aviation Safety Network’s database.

There are many causes of plane crashes, including miscommunication, loss of flight control, pilot error, physical deterioration of the aircraft, and failure to maintain flight path. The reason for the deadliest plane crashes in history was communication breakdown that resulted in a collision between two jetliners. 

In 1977, two Boeing 747s operated by Pan Am and KLM collided after not receiving proper clearance at Tenerife-Los Rodeos International Airport on the Spanish island of Tenerife. A total of 583 people were killed, the worst tragedy in aviation history. (Also see, these are the worst airports in America for customer satisfaction.)

A collision in 1996 between an Ilyushin jet operated by Kazakhstan Airlines and a Boeing 747 operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines en route to Delhi in India claimed the lives of 349 people.  

The worst tragedy involving a single airplane was that of a Boeing 747 operated by Japan Air Lines, which crashed in Japan in 1985. It was determined that the accident was caused by deterioration of flying quality and loss of primary flight control functions because of rupture of the aft pressure bulkhead of the aircraft. That rapture occurred because of fatigue cracks. (Air travel has other dangers. Here are U.S. airports polluting the air with dangerous toxins.)

Click here to see the deadliest plane crashes in history.

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