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Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121 registered as , was a domestic scheduled passenger flight from Baltimoremarker to Philadelphiamarker, which crashedon December 8, 1963 near Elkton, Marylandmarker, after being hit by a lightning strike while in a holding pattern, killing all 81 persons on board.

Flight history

On December 8, 1963, Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121 four-engine turbojet named Clipper Tradewind by Pan Am, took off from Isla Verde International Airportmarker in San Juan, Puerto Ricomarker at 4:10 p.m. EST, for a flight to Philadelphiamarker with 73 passengers and 8 crew on board. At 7:35 p.m. EST, Flight 214 made an intermediate stop at Friendship International Airport (now called Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airportmarker, or BWI) for refueling. At 8:24 p.m. EST, Flight 214 departed. Due to high winds in the Philadelphia area, the crew chose to wait in a holding pattern with five other airplanes rather than attempt to land in Philadelphia.

At 8:58 p.m. EST, while in the holding pattern, the aircraft was hit by lightning, which ignited fuel vapors in the number one (left) reserve tank, causing an explosion. The crew of Flight 214 managed to transmit a final message – "Mayday Mayday Mayday. Clipper 214 out of control. Here we go." – before it crashed near Elkton, Marylandmarker. All 81 people on board were killed.


Diagram showing Flight 214 fuel tank layout
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated the accident, and issued the following Probable Cause statement on March 3, 1965:

FAA reaction

As a result of the crash of Flight 214, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered lightning discharge wick to be installed on all commercial jets flying inside U.S. airspace.

Volatile fuel vapor recommendation

On December 17, 1963, nine days after the crash of Flight 214, Leon H. Tanguay, director of the CAB Bureau of Safety, sent a letter to the FAA recommending several safety modifications as part of future aircraft design. One modification related specifically to volatile fuel vapors that can form inside of partly empty fuel tanks, which may be ignited by various potential ignition sources and cause an explosion. Mr. Tanguay's letter suggested reducing the volatility of the fuel/air gas mixture by introducing an inert gas, or by using air circulation. Thirty three years later, a similar recommendation was issued by the NTSB (the CAB's successor) after the TWA Flight 800marker Boeing 747 crash on July 17, 1996, with 230 fatalities, which was also determined to have been caused by the explosion of a volatile mixture inside a fuel tank.

Guinness world record

The crash of Pan Am Flight 214 was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records (2005) as the "Worst Lightning Strike Death Toll".In 1971, LANSA Flight 508 was also brought down by a lightning strike, but has no mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, despite having more casualties (91 fatalities).

See also


  1. Pan Am flights were called 'Clipper' by Air Traffic Control
  2. . Retrieved on 2006-06-12.
  3. The full TWA 800 NTSB report was issued in 2000, but a safety recommendation regarding fuel vapor inerting was sent to the FAA on December 13, 1996, according to the NTSB report.
  4. TWA 800 NTSB AAR-00/03 Final Report, adopted August 23, 2000
  5. copy of Guinness Book of World Records entry for Pan Am Flight 214

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