Plane Crashes that Changed Aviation

Airplane landing

Mistakes happen in the heat of battle. Perhaps recue personal erred immediately after the misguided landing of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco last summer. We’re told a rescue vehicle ran over a dazed passenger who was thrown onto the tarmac.

In the latest news, a firefighter who was wrongly identified as the driver is now suing for defamation.

I don’t wish ill on any of them – mistakes happen in the heat of battle. The only possible good to come out of this is increased training and perhaps changes to how rescue personal respond to accidents.

In aviation, mistakes analyzed often lead to changes that have made flying safer. Here are some examples I’ve garnered from, of all places, Popular Mechanics.

Back in 1956, a Trans World Airlines (TWA) jet and a United Airlines flight collided in mid-air over the Grand Canyon. The accident led to a major revamping of the nation’s air traffic control system and two years later the FAA was formed.

In 1978, a United DC-8 circled Portland while they tried to solve a landing gear problem. The aircraft ran out of fuel and went down. The accident changed cockpit training procedures and emphasized teamwork and communication, moving away from the traditional “the captain is god” hierarchy.

In 1983, an Air Canada flight bound for Toronto from Dallas developed a fire in the lavatory. In the midst of heavy smoke, the pilot made an emergency landing in Cincinnati but then a flash fire resulted in 23 deaths. As a result, smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers were mandated in aircraft lavatories.

In 1985, a Delta flight coming into Dallas encountered violent weather and wind shear that brought it down short of the runway. A seven-year research effort by NASA and the FAA resulted in “on-board forward-looking radar wind-shear detectors.”

In 1986, air traffic control didn’t really factor in small private aircraft. Then a Piper aircraft drifted into LAX airspace and collided with an Aeromexico DC-9. After that, the FAA required all private aircraft to use electronic devices broadcasting position and altitude to controllers. Commercial jets added collision-avoidance systems.

In 1988, a section of the fuselage blew off an Aloha Airlines flight during a short flight from Hilo to Honolulu. The accident led the FAA to increase inspection and maintenance of “high-use and high-cycle aircraft.”

In 1994, a valve in the rudder-control system of a Boeing 737 jammed on approach to Pittsburgh and brought down the aircraft. Boeing then retrofitted about 2,800 737 aircraft and Congress passed the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, which transferred survivor services to the NTSB.

In 1996, a ValuJet crashed in the Everglades after a fire resulted from chemical oxygen generators in the cargo. The FAA then demanded smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers in the cargo holds of all commercial airliners and rewrote the rules regulating hazardous cargo.

Also in 1996, a Boeing 747 bound for Paris took off from New York and then exploded mid-air. A lengthy investigation concluded that fumes in a fuel tank led to an explosion. The FAA mandated changes to improve wiring and diminish the chance of electrical sparks.

In 1998, pilots of a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 smelled smoke in the cockpit and crashed into the Atlantic off the east coast of Canada. Investigators believe the fire spread along “ flammable Mylar fuselage insulation” and the FAA ordered fire-resistant materials in about 700 McDonnell Douglas aircraft.

The Tarmac’s View:  I don’t know about you, but after reading about these terrible tragedies and the changes they brought to aviation, I feel a lot safer about flying.

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Comments (Showing 3 of 3)

  • Milnio87 at 7:12pm February 04, 2014

    Because clearly no aviation disasters outside of North American continent have had any impact on long term aviation safety…..

  • a7800 at 7:50pm February 04, 2014

    Thanks for the recap of the episodes of the Smithsonian Channel’s Air Disasters Show.

  • medichill at 11:51pm February 04, 2014

    The press have anointed Capt. Sully Sullenberger as a hero and, indeed, he and his crew did an amazing job under difficult circumstances. Rarely, if ever, mentioned though are all the safety features and other routine measures that made a landing in the Hudson River possible. Well trained flight attendants, rules for passengers about baggage, floating ramps, communications with the tower and so many more factors that have been put into place by the FAA and others made the chances of success much greater.

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