1977: Deadliest Aviation Accident in History

1977: Deadliest Aviation Accident in History
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 27 March 1977
  • Two large Boeing 747 aircraft collided on this day in Tenerife, because of a misunderstanding with the flight controller. As many as 583 people were killed in the collision, more than in any other plane crash in history.

The deadliest aviation accident in history occurred on this day. Namely, a record number of 583 people were killed when two Boeing 747 jumbo-jets collided on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

That day, because of a bomb attack, the main airport on the island of Gran Canaria was closed and all traffic was re-routed to Tenerife. The airport became overloaded while a dense fog developed.

One of the Boeings 747, owned by the Dutch company KLM, tried to take off, not knowing that another Boeing (Pan Am flight) was still on the runway.

KLM’s plane crashed into Pan Am causing an explosion that killed all 248 passengers on the KLM aircraft and 335 out of 396 passengers on Pan Am. Therefore, only 61 passengers survived.

The confusion because of which the KLM’s aircraft began its takeoff was a result of misunderstandings with flight control. Namely, the pilot thought he had permission for take-off because he misunderstood the controller.

After the accident, a strict use of standardized phrases in communication between controllers and pilots was introduced. For example, the word “take-off” is only spoken when actually clearing an aircraft to take off and is prohibited in general usage.

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