10 Most Tragic Aviation Disasters In History

Mostly, accidents involving motor vehicles are fatal. In case of an aviation tragedy, the damage that is inflicted, in general, is hugely compounded by the population of the people involved in the tragedy and their relatives. Unlike other transportation related accidents, air crashes seldom have any survivors and rescue operations are rarely fruitful. It might be morbid, but this list is going to cover ten of the most tragic aviation disasters in history.

10. Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, 2014

According to the report released by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, the causative agent for the incident was the stalling of the aircraft due to a malfunctioning rudder limiter which eventually led to the aircraft going out of control and crashing into the Java Sea.

The search mission was huge and it involved the participation of vessels from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, China, and the US to name few. The flight’s warning system had provided all the necessary indication, but instead of following the procedure for such scenarios, the pilots decided to reset the unit which consequently lead to the bank angle protection and stall protection being disabled. This is believed to have played a key role in the flight crashing. Three months of intense rescue operation could only recover 106 bodies out of the 162 who lost their lives.

9. Flight 2120 Nigeria Airways, 1991

The intensity of this accident is so high that it is considered the worst aviation disaster involving a Canadian airline. On 11 July 1991, flight 2120 took off from Saudi Arabia and was heading to Nigeria with 261 people on-board which includes 14 crew members. Minutes after the take off the flight was destroyed. Preliminary investigation showed that the tyre pressure was low in two of the tyres and it resulted in over friction which consequently lead to a self-sustaining fire that blazed the pneumatics and hydraulics unit of the flight. Even before the flight could make a return and carry out an emergency landing, the fire had already consumed the cabin floor and people were spotted jumping from the aircraft. Nobody could survive this tragic accident.

8. American Airlines Flight 191, 1979

In 1979, an unfortunate disaster struck the frequently chartered passenger flight operated by American airlines. The fight was carrying 273 people including 13 crew members. When the left engine detached from the wing, the accident was immediate. The accident took place immediately after take-off when the left engine separated from the wing and caused unbalanced aerodynamic forces on the airplane causing it to roll abruptly to the left side and eventually crashing into an open field at the end of the runway. Pylon, structure used for holding the engine, was damaged due to improper maintenance. There were no survivors on the plane from the crash and two people on the ground lost their lives due the accident. The aircraft was manufactured by McDonnell Douglas.

7. Iranian Air Force Ilyushin II-76, 2003

Iranian Air Force Ilyushin II-76

In 2003, an Ilyushin Il-76 carrying members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a special force unit that is independent from the Iranian Army, on an unknown mission when it crashed into Kerman, Iran. The flight was carrying 275 people on board. None of the occupants of the plane survived. Poor weather conditions resulting in loss of contact with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) is believed to be the reason that was arrived at by Investigators as the reason for this fatality. Investigators concluded that the airplane lost contact with the air traffic control after entering an air zone of inclement weather. There are also speculations of how it could also have been a terrorist attack since few terrorist organizations claimed responsibility for the crash.

6. Flight 17- Malaysia Airlines, 2014

In 2014, one of the most tragic aviation disasters happened to the Malaysia Airlines yet again after the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370. Flight 17 which is in the fleet of aircrafts that belong to Malaysian Airlines was flying from Amsterdam to KL when it was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine in the midst of the Battle of Shakhtarsk. The missile managed to turn the plane into a flying fireball. All the 298 passengers and crew on board lost their lives. A blame game has been going on between Russia and Ukraine about owning up to the accident.

Investigators, Dutch Safety Board (DSB) and the Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT), concluded that the missile was launched by a team of pro-Russian militants from the territory controlled by them in Ukraine. The incident was a morale crusher for Malaysian airlines considering this incident happened almost 3 months after the disappearance of Flight 370 which was also operated by Malaysian airlines. Prior to the accident, the authority for federal aviation administration in the United States had issued restrictions on certain flight routes through Ukraine, but unfortunately the crash zone of the MH17 was not included in it.

5. Air India Flight 182, 1985

Flight 182 that connected Toronto in Canada to Delhi was en route to Delhi carrying 329 people. An explosive in the aircraft exploded at an altitude of 31,000 feet which led the plane to crash into the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors from this accident. The incident happened over Irish airspace. The conspirators of the explosion is believed to be the members of the Sikh militant group; Babbar Khalsa. It was a retaliation towards India for carrying out Operation Blue star which involved neutralizing/ arresting Sikh militants that were holed up in the Golden temple and surrounding structures. Apparently, around the same time there was another explosion that was planned on board Air India flight 301, but the bomb exploded even before the luggage that was carrying it could be loaded into the flight.

4. Turkish Airlines Flight 981, 1974

Safety is of paramount importance in air travel considering the altitude of operation. When aircraft-design safety is compromised, it leads to Himalayan fatalities and that is what happened to Flight 981. Flight 981 was headed to London, via Paris, from Istanbul when an improperly latched cargo door broke off resulting in an explosive decompression. This is fatal because it can result in the cables involved in the avionics to snap and totally put the plane out of control. Initially, there was a legal turmoil between the manufacturer of the cargo door and the airlines, but upon further investigation it was evident that there was fault on both the parties. Nevertheless, the locking systems were redesigned significantly and additional features for safety were put in place. The fatality was 346.

3. Charkhi Dadri Mid-air Collision, 1996

This is a tragedy that involved two aircrafts; operated by Saudi Arabian airlines and Kazakhstan airlines. The incident took away a total of 349 people and has been considered the world’s deadliest mid-air collision. On detailed investigation, it was found that the inability of the Kazakhstan Airlines’ pilot to follow ATC instructions was the cause for the collision. The tail portion of the Kazakhstan airlines is believed to have shaved of the left-wing of the Saudi plane causing a tragedy of this gravity. Rescuers had managed to find a couple of survivors, but they were all critically injured and eventually succumbed.

2. Japan Airlines Flight 123, 1985

A Boeing 747SR flight used for operation between Tokyo and Osaka by Japan Airlines became a flying coffin when disaster struck on 12th August 1985. The fatality of the accident was so severe that it is considered the largest single aircraft accident in the history of aviation disasters. 520 people lost their lives when it crashed into Mount Takamagahara in Central Japan. It happened when the pilots lost control over the airplane due to a mechanical fault. Miraculously, 4 passengers survived the crash. The survivors have claimed that more passengers could have been saved if the rescuers reached the wreckage quicker.

1. Tenerife Airport Disaster, 1977

Tenerife Airport Disaster


Tenerife airport disaster is the worst aviation disaster in history. The magnitude of the 1977 accident speaks for itself. 583 people lost their lives when an aircraft belonging to KLM tried to take off without authorization ended up pounding into an aircraft operated by Pan AM that had missed the exit into the runway during taxi. Nobody aboard the KLM flight survived, but 61 from the Pan AM flight survived. The pilot on board the Pan AM missed the exit due to foggy weather, and the pilots on board the KLM plane overrode the ATC instructions. An accident of this magnitude had to take place for authorities to understand the importance of using standard language in communication between pilots and ATC operators. SOPs surrounding cockpit procedures were revisited and reviewed post this incident. This accident is also considered the accident of the century due to the enormity of the casualties.