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An aviation accident is defined in the Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 13 as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, in which a person is fatally or seriously injured, the aircraft sustains damage or structural failure and/or the aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible.

An aviation incident is also defined there as an occurrence other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations.

An accident in which the damage to the aircraft is such that it must be written off, or in which the plane is destroyed is called a hull loss accident.

Major disasters

The deadliest aviation-related disaster of any kind, considering fatalities on both the aircraft and the ground, was the destruction of the World Trade Centermarker in New York Citymarker on September 11, 2001 with the intentional crashing of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 by Al-qaeda operatives. The crashes killed 2,988, most of them occupants of the World Trade Center towers or emergency personnel responding to the disaster.

The March 27, 1977, Tenerife disastermarker remains the accident with the highest number of airliner passenger fatalities. In this disaster, 583 people died when a KLM Boeing 747 attempted take-off and collided with a taxiing Pan Am 747 at Los Rodeos Airportmarker. Pilot error, ATC error, communications problems, fog, and airfield congestion due to a bombing and a second bomb threat at another airport, which diverted air traffic to Los Rodeos, all contributed to this catastrophe.

The crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123marker in 1985 is the single-aircraft disaster with the highest number of fatalities. In this crash, 520 died on board a Boeing 747. The aircraft suffered an explosive decompression from a failed pressure bulkhead repair, which destroyed its vertical stabilizer and severed hydraulic lines, making the 747 virtually uncontrollable.

The world's deadliest mid-air collision was the 1996 Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision involving Saudia Flight 763 and Air Kazakhstan Flight 1907 over Haryanamarker, Indiamarker. The crash was mainly the result of the Kazakh pilot flying lower than the altitude for which his aircraft was given clearance. Three hundred and forty-nine passengers and crew died from both aircraft. The Ramesh Chandra Lahoti Commission, empowered to study the causes, also recommended the creation of "air corridors" to prevent planes from flying in opposite directions at the same altitude.

On March 3, 1974, Turkish Airlines Flight 981marker McDonnell Douglas DC-10 crashed in a forest northeast of Paris, France. The destination was London but the plane crashed shortly after taking off from Orly airport. There were a total of 346 people on board; all of them perished in the crash. It was later determined that the cargo door had detached which caused an explosive decompression which in turn caused the floor just above to collapse. When the floor collapsed it severed the control cables, which left the pilots without control of the elevators, the rudder and the No. 2 engine. The plane entered a steep dive and crashed. It was the deadliest plane crash of all time until the Tenerife disaster in 1977.

On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182marker crashed off the southwest coast of Ireland when a bomb exploded in the cargo hold. On board the Boeing 747-237B were 307 passengers and 22 crew members, all of whom were killed when the plane disintegrated. One passenger checked in as "M. Singh". He didn't board the flight but his suitcase that contained the bomb was loaded onto the plane. Mr. Singh was never identified and captured. It was later found out that Sikh extremists were behind the bombing and that it was a retaliation for the Indian government's attack on the sacred Golden Temple in the city of Amritsarmarker, which is very important for the Sikhs. This was at the time the deadliest terrorist attack involving an airplane.

On September 1, 1983, a Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007marker killing all 269 passengers and crew.

Iran Air Flight 655marker was a civilian airliner shot down by US missiles on Sunday 3 July 1988, over the Strait of Hormuzmarker killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children, ranking it seventh among the deadliest airline disasters.

Pan Am Flight 103 was a Boeing 747-121 that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb over the town of Lockerbiemarker, Scotland on the 21st December 1988. The crash killed all 243 passengers, all 16 crew and 11 people on the ground (all of whom were residents of Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie), making it the worst terrorist attack involving an aircraft in the UK.


Aviation safety has come a long way in over one hundred years of implementation. In modern times, two major manufacturers still produce heavy passenger aircraft for the civilian market: Boeing of the United States of Americamarker and the European company Airbus. Both have placed huge emphasis on the use of aviation safety equipment, now a billion-dollar industry in its own right, and made safety a major selling point—realizing that a poor safety record in the aviation industry is a threat to corporate survival. Some major safety devices now required in commercial aircraft involve:
  • Evacuation slides - aid rapid passenger exit from an aircraft in an emergency situation.
  • Advanced avionics - Computerized auto-recovery and alert systems.
  • Turbine engines - durability and failure containment improvements
  • Landing gear - that can be lowered even after loss of power and hydraulics.

When measured on a passenger-distance calculation, air travel is the safest form of transportation available: these figures are the ones mentioned by the air industry when quoting statistics on air safety. A typical statement is this one by the BBC: "UK airline operations are among the safest anywhere. When compared against all other modes of transport on a fatality per mile basis air transport is the safest - six times safer than traveling by car and twice as safe as rail."

However, when measured by fatalities per person transported, buses are the safest form of transportation and the number of air travel fatalities per person are surpassed only by bicycles and motorcycles. This statistic is the one used by the insurance industry when calculating insurance rates for air travel.

For every billion kilometers traveled, trains have a fatality rate 12 times larger than air travel, while automobiles have a fatality rate 62 times larger. On the other hand, for every billion journeys, buses are the safest form of transportation. By the last measure air transportation is three times more dangerous than car transportation and almost 30 times more dangerous than bus.

A 2007 study by Popular Mechanics found that passengers sitting at the back of a plane are 40% more likely to survive a crash than those sitting in the front, although this article also quotes Boeing, the FAA and a website on aircraft safety, all claiming that there is no safest seat. The article studied 20 crashes, not taking in account the developments in safety after those accidents. However, a flight data recorder is usually mounted in the aircraft's empennage (tail section), where it is more likely to survive a severe crash.

Where to Sit on the Plane?

While there is some evidence to suggest that the rear of the plane is the safest part, this is by no means always true. Speaking in an interview in January 1973, a survivor of the 1972 Andes crash, Alfredo Delgado, had an ominous feeling that the plane was going to crash and tried to sit in the rear of the plane before take-off, believing that it was the safest spot. He told reporters “I was so convinced that I sat on a seat at the back, because my experience told me that the plane’s tail was much safer than the other parts of the plane.”

After been told by the cabin crew that the back seats were reserved, Delgado had to move and ended up in a seat in the middle of the plane, “I saved my life by not being seated at the tail, because the tail came off the rest of the plane’s body,” he concluded. Similarly, one of the few survivors of the Madrid plane crash in August 2008, 30 year old Briton Kim Tate Perez, survived the crash because she had been sitting in row 6, the exact spot where the plane ripped in two, throwing her clear of the wreckage.


Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO)

The Genevamarker-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO) compiles statistics on aviation accidents of aircraft capable of carrying more than six passengers, not including helicopters, balloons, or fighter airplanes.The ACRO announced that the year 2007 was the safest year in aviation since 1963 in terms of number of accidents.There had been 136 accidents registered (compared to 164 in 2006), resulting in a total of 965 deaths (compared to 1,293 in 2006). 2004 was the year with the lowest number of fatalities since the end of World War II, with 766 deaths. The year with most fatalities was 1972, with 3,214 deaths.
year deaths nr. of accidents
2008 876 147
2007 965 136
2006 1,293 164
2005 1,454 184
2004 766 165
2003 1,224 198
2002 1,399 173
2001 1,535 187
2000 1,567 179
1999 1,130 198
1972 3,214 -

Annual Aviation Safety Review (EASA)

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is tasked by Article 15(4) of Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008 to provide a review of aviation safety on an annual basis.

The Annual Safety Review presents statistics on European and worldwide civil aviation safety. The statistics are grouped according to type of operation, for instance commercial air transport, and aircraft category, such as aeroplanes, helicopters, gliders etc.The Agency had access to accident and statistical information collected by the International Civil Aviation Organisationmarker (ICAO). States are required, according to ICAO Annex 13 on Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, to report to ICAO information on accidents and serious incidents to aircraft with a maximum certificated take-off mass (MTOM) over 2250 kg. Therefore, most statistics in this review concern aircraft above this mass. In addition to the ICAO data, a request was made to the EASA Member States to obtain light aircraft accident data. Furthermore, data on the operation of aircraft for commercial air transport was obtained from both ICAO and the NLR Air Transport Safety Institute.


United States

In the United Statesmarker, most civil aviation incidents are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board . When investigating an aviation disaster, NTSB investigators piece together evidence from the crash and determine the likely cause or causes. The NTSB will also investigate incidents which occur overseas in collaboration with local investigation authorities where the crash has involved a US-registered aircraft, where there has been significant loss of American lives, or when the type of aircraft involved is built by an American manufacturer.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, the agency responsible for investigation of civilian air crashes is the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department for Transportmarker. Its purpose is to establish the circumstances and causes of the accident and to make recommendations for their future avoidance.


The Transportation Safety Board of Canada , an independent agency which reports directly to Parliament, is the Canadian agency responsible for the advancement of transportation safety through the investigation and reporting upon accident and incident occurrences in all prevalent Canadian modes of transportation - marine, air, rail and pipeline.


The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is the federal government body responsible for investigating transport-related accidents and incidents within Australia. It covers air, sea, rail travel. It is an agency of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.

Retirement of flight numbers

It is common for an airline to cease using the flight number after a fatal crash. This is not always the case; see, for example, Japan Airlines 123marker, American Airlines Flight 587marker, Aeroflot Flight 593marker, Aero Flight 311, Iran Air Flight 655marker, United Airlines Flights numbered 608marker, 624, and 823, and Aer Lingus Flight 712.

American Flight 587 no longer exists. The flight route designations of flights between Kennedy Airport and Las Américas Airport are now 619, 635, and 789.

See also

Lists of airliner accidents

Lists of military aircraft accidents

Air safety

Aviation Authorities



  1. The website attributes the source as an October 2000 article by editor Roger Ford in the magazine Modern Railways and based on an unidentified DETR survey.
  2. 2007 : excellent year for civil aviation Geneva, 1st January 2008
  3. Death number by year (ACRO)
  4. Accident number by year (ACRO)
  6. Grossman, David. " Check your travel superstitions, or carry them on?," USA Today


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