10 Worst Mid-Air Collisions in the History of Commercial Airlines
The possibility of an aircraft colliding with another aircraft is often taken with less possibility. People without inclination to flying will often take the notion that the sky is such a big open space for two airplanes to cross each other’s paths and meet at a point head-on. Eventhough this speculation has some truth in it, mid-air collisions do happen and couldn’t be taken for granted. As simple as the enforcement of traffic rules and regulations on the highway that despite the placing of road signs to guide motorists, some people are just bound to ignore it. In the same manner, so does air traffic. The worst thing is nobody could set visible paths in the sky for airplanes to move on, and if a marked path couldn’t be laid out, so do air signs.
The common cause of mid air collisions based upon the first recorded mid air collision in 1922 (France) between two biplanes was due to poor visibility (fog). Through the years despite the advancement in technology allowing for aircraft to utilize precision instruments like radar and GPS, air accidents of this nature still keep on happening. Here were 10 of the worst mid-air collisions in the history of commercial airlines based on no. of fatalities.
1. Saudi Airlines Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 - This mid-air disaster happened on 12 November 1996 in Charkhi Dadri, Haryana India. A Boeing 747-168B of Saudi Airlines en route to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia collided at altitude with an Ilyushin Il-76 of Kazahkstan Airlines. All 349 passengers from both flights perished making it the deadliest mid-air collision in history.
2. Aeroflot 65816 and Aeroflot 65735 - This mid-air collision occurred between two airliners of Aeroflot both Tu-134 airliners on 11 August 1979 above Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine. Aeroflot 65735 departed Donetsk Airport, Ukrainian SSR bound for Minsk-1 International Airport, Belarusian, SSR and was at an altitude of 8400 meters while Aeroflot 657816 was on the same altitude setting from Voronezh Airport, Russian SFSR to Chisinau Airport, Moldovian SSR. The traffic controller noticed both aircraft intersecting at the same altitude and instructed the former to climb to 9000 meters which was met with a muffled reply. The reply was actually from a different aircraft and the two airliners collided killing everyone aboard including 17 players of the Soviet Football Club team.
3. British Airways Flight 476 and Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 550 – This one happened in 10 September 1976 involving a British Airways Hawker Siddeley Trident 3B in route for Yesilkoy International Airport, Turkey and an Inex-Adria Aviopromet DC-9 bound for Cologne Bonn Airport, West Germany. Both aircraft intersected at Zagreb air traffic control region in Croatia which was noted as a busy, undermanned, and poorly equipped sector. The extreme load being monitored by the traffic controllers caused a conflicting instruction on the two incoming traffic which led for them to meet head on than avoid each other causing a fatality of 176 aboard both airliners making the accident the world’s deadliest air disaster during that time.
4. All-Nippon Airways Flight 58 and JASDF F-86F Fighter Jet - On 30 July 1971 a Boeing 727-281 of All-Nippon Airways left Chitose Airport in Sapporo for Tokyo International Airport when it collide with a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-86F Sabre jet over Shizukuishi, Iwate Prefecture. The single pilot of the F-86F turned out to be a pilot trainee of the JASDF who managed to bail out before the collision while the passengers and crew of the Boeing 727 (162 all) died.
5. Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 1103 and Libyan Air Force Mig-23 Flogger - On 22 December 1992 a Boeing 727 of the Libyan Arab Airlines with 10 crew and 147 passengers aboard perished when it collided with a Libyan Air Force Mig-23 Flogger while in route to Tripoli International Airport. The crew of the Mig-23 also died in the collision making a total fatality of 159 deaths.
Flight 1907 Wreckage at the Amazon Jungle
Computer generated image of Flight 1907 and Embraer business jet before collision
6. Gol Transportes Aereos Flight 1907 and Embraer Legacy business jet – This accident involved a Boeing 737-8EH of the Gol Transportes Aereos en route for Rio de Janeiro from Manaus, Brazil which on 29 September 2006 collided in mid-air with an Embraer Legacy business jet while above the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business jet was actually on a maiden flight from the Embraer factory in Brazil as picked up by the operator (ExcelAire and its flight crew) for delivery to the US. The fact that the flight actually has aboard columnist Joe Sharkey writing for Business Jet Traveller (a magazine for executives flying business jets) made the accident controversial as the business jet managed to stabilize after the impact despite shearing its left winglet and landing safely on a Brazilian Air Force Base. All passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 737 (154) perished.
A graphic illustration of the Mid-Air Collision between PSA Flight 182 and a Cessna 172
7. Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 (PSA) and a Cessna 172 – This mid-air collision happened on 25 September 1978 at San Diego, California. A Boeing 727-214 of PSA collided with a Cessna 172 while on approach for landing at Lindberg Field Airport. The root of the accident was attributed to the Cessna 172 which diverted from the course set by the controller while the crew of the 727 assumed the position of the smaller plane after minutes of visual contact, not realizing it was directly below them. The status of the smaller plane being used for ILS approach training requiring the pilot under instruction to wear a “hood” also contributed to the accident and considering the Cessna was a high wing aircraft with the bigger plane above it thus made the situation more complicated. The collision claimed 135 lives on the 727, 2 on the Cessna 172 and 7 on the ground including 2 children (144 all). It also injured nine people and destroyed 22 homes making it the worst plane crash in the US until another crash of American Airlines Flight 191 8 months later.
Cessna 172 / Pixabay
8. United Airlines Flight 826 and Trans World Airlines Flight 266 - This mid-air collision involved a Douglas DC-8 of United Airlines en route from Chicago to New York and a Lockheed Super Constellation of Trans World Airlines en route from Ohio to New York. It happened 16 December 1960 over Staten Island, New York and resulted to 134 fatalities. The cause of the crash was attributed to heavy cloud as the weather brought light rain and fog having been preceded by a snowfall. There was also a report that Flight 826 had one of its VOR (VHF Omni-Directional Range) receivers malfunctioning which may have added to the accident making navigation in instrument conditions difficult.
9. Iran Air Tours Tupolev 154 and Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-17 - This collision occurred between an Iran Air Tours Tu-154 and an Iranian Air Force Su-17 above Tehran, Iran on 8 February 1993 which resulted to 133 fatalities.
Artist's Illustration of the United Airlines and Trans World Airlines Mid-Air Collision in 1956
10. United Airlines Flight 718 and Trans World Airlines Flight 2 - On 30 June 1956 a Douglas DC-7 of United Airlines collided with a Lockheed Super Constellation of Trans World Airlines above Grand Canyon in Arizona resulting in 128 fatalities. Both aircraft were flying in “off airways” or uncontrolled airspace and apparently collided with each other while trying to navigate through towering cumulus clouds on opposite directions.