While many of these crashes happened in the early years of aviation, there have been a surprising number of airline disasters since the new millennium. Most of these 37 worst plane crashes were caused not by technology but by humans, some by hijacking, others by human error in operation or maintenance. And there are a couple of planes that should’ve crashed but somehow miraculously didn’t.
These videos are a warning to all of us not to get too lazy and complacent in our leadership. And in other cases, there was amazing heroic leadership displayed. While genuine human error is excusable, hubris often sets in if we don’t guard against it, leading to, in some of these cases, leadership failure with dramatic consequences not just for the leader (pilot) but others (passengers). What a sad, but poignant, a metaphor for leadership at work and in life.
1. American Airlines Flight 11
Most people around the world heard about the September 11th attack that happened in New York City as several planes were hijacked on the same day. Two planes were successfully flown into each of the Twin Towers and another plane into the Pentagon.
2. United Airlines Flight 175: South Tower Attack on World Trade Center
3. American Airlines Flight 77: Pentagon Attack on September 11th
4. United Airlines Flight 93: The Flight That Fought Back on September 11th
The final plane was allegedly headed for the White House but was intentionally crashed by brave passengers into a Pennsylvania field. And fought back they did!
5. Tenerife Airport Disaster
This crash, which could’ve been avoided, is still the deadliest in aviation history due to 538 deaths. There was a dense fog, complicating the situation, but the KLM pilot was to blame for miscommunication in his clearance for takeoff from Air Traffic Control.
6. The Impossible Landing of United Airlines Flight 232
Despite mechanical failure brought on by poor maintenance and quality inspections, the pilot was able to land the plane without mechanical controls. 111 people died and 185 survived.
7. Federal Express Flight 705: Fight for Your Life
This airline disaster was a literal fight for the lives of crew and passengers from a hijacking. The captain and crew were somehow able to subdue the hijacker and land the plane despite a determined and violent attack.
8. The Ghost Plane of Helios Airways Flight 522
Sadly, this plane crash could’ve been avoided had the maintenance crew not turned the pressurization system to manual instead of auto. But there were multiple warnings the pilots ignored that could’ve avoided the loss of cabin pressure.
9. Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Cutting Corners
Another airline disaster caused by poor maintenance…
10. Deadly Silence of a South Dakota Learjet Crash in 1999
This plan crash killed PGA golfer Payne Stewart.
11. Delta Airlines Flight 191: The Invisible Killer
The crash of this flight was caused by a decision to fly directly through a thunderstorm.
12. Mid-air Collision Over Los Angeles 1986
A smaller Piper plane did not have proper clearance to be in the airspace of an Aeromexico plane and caused a collision. All lives were lost.
13. Philippine Airlines Flight 434: Bomb on Board
Despite a bomb exploding on board, all but one person survived.
14. Kara Hultgreen’s F-14 Tomcat Crash: 1994 Death of Revlon
Kara was the first female carrier-based fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy and perished in this airline disaster.
15. Catastrophe at O’Hare: American Airlines Flight 191
This plane crash was caused by faulty maintenance.
16. Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182: Blind Spot
This mid-air collision was determined to be the larger plane’s pilot error of not keeping a visual on the smaller plane.
17. Uncontrollable: Japan Airlines Flight 123
Faulty repair caused massive, explosive decompression leading to only 4 survivors.
18. Up In Flames: Air France Flight 4590
This Concorde aircraft blew a tire and puncturing the fuel tank after running over debris which caused fire and engine failure.
19. Northwest Airlines Flight 85: Turning Point
Due to the fast action of the crew, no one was injured or killed.
20. Sight Unseen: Charkhi-Dadri Mid-air Collision
The failure of Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907’s pilot to follow Air Traffic Control’s instructions caused this plane crash.
21. American Airlines Flight 96: Behind Closed Doors
Despite rapid decompression in the cargo hold, this plane was able to land safely.
22. The Final Push: FedEx Flights 14 and 80
23. UPS Airlines Flight 6: Fatal Delivery
24. Deadly Delay: Saudia Flight 163
25. Fatal Distraction: Eastern Airlines Flight 401
26. US Airways Flight 1549: Miracle on the Hudson
27. Racing the Storm: American Airlines Flight 1420
28. Croatia USAF CT-43 Crash: Fog of War 1996
29. Continental DC-10 Flight Crash on Approach to San Jose International Airport
30. Vertigo: Flash Airlines 604
31. United Airlines Flight 585 and US Air Flight 427: Hidden Danger
32. Fire on Board: Swiss Air Flight 111
33. Cross Air Flight 3597: Cockpit Failure
34. Caution to the Wind: Singapore Airlines Flight 006
35. AirFrance Flight 447: Vanished
36. Heathrow Airport Mania
37. Concorde Hard Landing at Gatwick Airport