• Disasters

The Worst Plane Crashes in History

Air travel is certainly one of humanity's crowning achievements. It opened up the world and allowed people to travel to far away lands in mere hours as opposed to the days or weeks it would take before the advent of planes. Yet there is an anxiety surrounding air travel, a fear of what would happen if something were to go wrong. This fear isn't ridiculous, as there have been countless aviation accidents that resulted in massive loss of life. The biggest plane crashes in the world were incredible tragedies, many of which could have been prevented with more precaution on the part of the pilot and crew. 

The worst plane crashes in history have wreaked havoc on the psyches of travelers around the world. There is a helplessness associated with air travel as a passenger given those aboard the plane have little control of what happens. The only thing you can do is brace yourself for the worst, so stories of people killed in plane crashes are a source of great anxiety for many. This is exasperated by the fact the media also has a morbid fascination with plane crashes, dedicating countless hours to the discussion of missing or crashed planes. Like many subjects, people tend to be fascinated by what they fear. Aviation disasters are no exception, but it is important to remember that plane crash deaths are relatively rare. Overall, air travel is very safe and commercial planes are incredibly reliable machines. While this list is focused on the deadliest plane crashes of all time, many of these crashes actually helped flight engineers learn how to make air travel safer than ever before. 

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  • 1996 Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision

    Date: November 12, 1996

    Cause: Air-traffic control error

    Deaths: 349

    The Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision is the one of the worst mid flight collisions in the history of Aviation, killing everyone aboard Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907. The planes were flying near the New Dehli airport when the collision happened. The collision was caused by miscommunication between air traffic controllers, as both flights were given the approval to use the same airway at the same time. The planes were traveling in opposite directions, with one ascending and the other descending, when they slammed into each other. The Saudi Arabian Airlines plane broke up in the air before hitting the ground while the Kazakhstan Airlines Flight crashed into a field. 

  • 1974 Turkish Airlines Flight 981 Crash

    Date: March 3, 1974

    Cause: Mechanical failure

    Deaths: 346

    On a route from Istanbul to Western Europe, Turkish Airlines Flight 981 suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure that resulted in the aircraft crashing into the forest in Ermenonville, France. An improperly sealed door to the cargo hold caused the plane to depressurize mid-flight and this resulted in several people being sucked out of the plane. The depressurization caused massive damage to the plane, including a destroyed engine and a partial floor collapse in the passenger cabin. No survivors were discovered at the crash site. 

  • Photo: Ian Kirby / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    1985 Air India Flight 182 Bombing

    Date: June 23, 1985

    Cause: Terrorism

    Deaths: 329

    Over 300 people were killed, 280 of which were Canadian citizens, when a bomb detonated aboard Air India Flight 182 while en route from Toronto to London. The plane came down off the coast of Cork, Ireland. Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Sikh extremist, was the sole person connected to the bombing to be tried and convicted. Reyat was a member of a Sikh separatist group run by Talwinder Singh Parmar, and it is likely that he worked in tandem with the organization to commit the bombing. The attack was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of aviation until the events of September 11, 2001. Reyat was released by Canadian authorities in 2016 after serving 20 years.

  • 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash

    Date: Disappeared March 8, 2014

    Cause: Shot down, possibly by a Russian missile 

    Deaths: 298

    The plight of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 made headlines worldwide in 2014, when the plane crashed just outside of Donetsk, Ukraine under mysterious circumstances. There were no survivors out of the 298 passengers aboard. The plane had obviously been shot down by a military missile of some kind, but the responsible party was not immediately clear. After years of investigations, Dutch investigators announced in March 2018 that the Russian military launched the missile due to tensions between the Ukraine and Russia at that time period. Despite the report's conclusion, it remains unlikely anyone will be charged in the attack as Russia is not expected to extradite the responsible citizens to face charges.