September 11, 2001, is a date engrained in American history and American’s minds. These are some of the worst plane crashes in history.
By the Numbers
According to Boeing’s annual Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents, the company has recorded 2,082 accidents since reporting began in 1959. Of these incidents, 638 (31%) have resulted in fatalities. More than 40% of all commercial US aircraft are manufactured by Boeing.
1: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
On July 17, 2014, a plane on a routine flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian-controlled military forces in Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew. This was the second major incident for Malaysia Airlines in 2014; just three months earlier, the now-infamous Flight 370 had disappeared.
2: September 11
September 11, 2001, remains the single deadliest day for flight in history when two hijacked planes collided with the World Trade Center. Between passengers, crew, and those trapped within the buildings and on the ground, more than 2,700 people were killed.
3: Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision
The deadliest aviation accident in India’s history occurred on November 12, 1996, when Saudia Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 collided mid-air over the village of Charkhi Dadri, killing all 349 people on both planes.
4: Air India Flight 182
On June 23, 1985, a Boeing 747 en route to London from Montreal exploded over Ireland, plunging all 329 passengers and crew into the North Atlantic; there were no survivors. A bomb smuggled aboard by terrorists resulted in the largest mass murder in Canadian history and the deadliest act of aviation terrorism until 9/11.
5: Japan Airlines Flight 123
The deadliest single-aircraft incident in aviation history took place on a routine flight from Tokyo to Osaka on August 12, 1985. Structural failure due to a faulty repair made years earlier caused the pilots of the Boeing 747 to lose control of the aircraft as it crashed into Mount Takamagahara, killing all but four of the 524 people on board.
6: Saudia Flight 163
When passenger Saudia Flight 163 caught fire shortly after taking off in August 1980, the crew managed a successful emergency landing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, they failed to perform an emergency evacuation of the plane, resulting in the deaths of all 287 passengers and 14 crew from smoke inhalation.
7: The Tenerife Airport Disaster
This aviation incident stands out not just for the massive loss of life (583 fatalities) but because the crash occurred on the ground. On March 27, 1977, two Boeing 747 passenger jets collided on the runway on the Spanish island of Tenerife due to poor visibility from heavy fog, miscommunication, and a transmitter malfunction.
8: Turkish Airlines Flight 981
Also known as the Ermenonville air disaster, the Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crash remains France’s deadliest aviation accident. On March 3, 1974, the plane took off from Istanbul en route to London with a layover in Paris; however, due to an incorrectly secured cargo door coming loose, it crashed into the Ermenonville Forest outside Paris, killing all 346 people on board.
9: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571
One of the world’s most infamous flights crashed in the Andes mountains on October 13, 1972, leaving the 33 survivors stranded in the snow. After 72 days, the remaining 16 survivors were finally rescued after the group had endured exposure, an avalanche, and starvation that led to cannibalism.
10: The First Fatality
During a demonstration of powered flight in Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1908, Orville Wright crashed his Wright Model A plane, killing his passenger Thomas Selfridge. Just five years after the invention of the airplane, Selfridge became air travel’s first fatality.
Some Good News
According to the International Air Transport Association’s annual safety performance report, 2022 saw a reduction in fatal aviation accidents and, therefore, a reduced fatality risk for flying over a five-year average. There were only five fatal plane crashes out of 32.2 million flights in 2022.
Trends in Air Travel Safety
Data compiled by Statista between 2006 and 2021 shows a significant decrease in fatal incidents related to air travel. When paired with the notable increase in flight volume (up 66% since 2004), data suggests that air travel is statistically the safest form of transportation.
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