The 5 worst aviation disasters of the 21st century

After yesterday's devastating news about the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, we look at the 5 worst aviation disaster of the 21st century.

Air France Flight 447

On June 1st, 2009, Air France Flight 447 was scheduled to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Around three and a half hours after take off from Rio the aircraft, an Airbus A330-203, hit icy turbulence conditions that blocked up its pitot tubes.

As a result the cockpit airspeed measurement dials became inconsistent and this caused the plane's autopilot feature to disconnect. Pilot error then led to a nose-up aerodynamic stall causing the aircraft to lose altitude rapidly, and neither one of the three on board pilots could salvage the situation.

Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at 280 km/h, killing all 228 passengers and crew members instantly. It is the worst air accident in the history of Air France.

Passengers - 216

Crew - 12

Fatalities - 228 (all)

American Airlines Flight 587

American Airlines Flight 587 took off on a routine flight from JFK International to Las Américas International Airport in the Dominican Republic on November 12, 2001.

The aircraft, an Airbus A300-600, was scheduled to take-off after a Tokyo bound Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400. At 09.14 the A300 took off as scheduled and was warned of potential wake turbulence left behind by the 747 in front.

It was just over a minute later that the pilot hit the described turbulence and his aggressive left and right movements to stabilise the plane caused the vertical stabiliser to break off. This caused the aircraft to plunge downwards in a spin, eventually crashing into Belle Harbor killing all onboard and five people on the ground.

Passengers - 251

Crew - 9

Fatalities - 265 (five ground fatalities)

Iran Ilyushin Il-76

There is little information documented on this crash. The accident occurred on February 19th, 2003 when an Ilyushin Il aircraft was flying from Zahedan to Kerman, Iran.

Onboard the plane were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and a special force of the Iranian Armed Forces that were on an unknown mission. The plane came down on mountainous terrain close to Kerman.

The official report claims the IIyushin was brought down by bad weather and pilot error, but a terrorist group called Abu-Bakr Brigades claimed they caused the catastrophe. The crash is the eight worst in aviation history.

Passengers - 257

Crew - 18

Fatalities - 275 

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Arguably the most mysterious aircraft disaster in the history of aviation. The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur on 8th March, earlier this year, with Beijing being its destination.

The Boeing 777-200ER aircraft took off at 00:41 local time and its last communication with air traffic control came at 1:19. After this point the aircraft was never heard from again.

A Malaysian military radar last clocked the aircraft south of Phuket island in the Strait of Malacca. However handshakes between the aircraft and the ground suggest the missing plane ended up in two flight corridors, one north between Thailand and Kazakhstan, and the the other south between Indonesia and the southern Indian Ocean.

No debris or crash site has yet been found; an underwater search is expected to begin in August 2014 at a cost of $56 million.

Passengers - 227

Crew - 12

Fatalities - unknown (presumed all)


On September 11th, 2001 four American passenger airliners were hijacked by terrorist group al-Qaeda.

American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were both hijacked after departing Boston. Flight 11 was flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center and 175 was flown into the south, and after two hours both towers had collapsed causing mass devastation. 

American Airlines Flight 77 flying from Washington was the third plane hijacked, and that was flown straight into the Pentagon. The fourth, United Airlines Flight 93 flew from Newark and unintentionally crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after a passenger revolt.

Passengers - 227

Hijackers - 19

Fatalities - 2996

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