11 Devastating Plane Crashes Caused By Pilot Error

Statistically speaking, flying is still the safest way to travel. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics estimates the average person’s odds of dying in a plane crash at 1 in 20,000. Compare that to the odds of being struck by lightning (1 in 3,000) or dying in a car accident (1 in 100). Commercial airplanes are highly regulated in most countries, and must pass extensive testing before being approved for flight. Advancements in technology have outfitted modern planes with highly effective safety features that prevent catastrophic failures mid-flight. But no matter how fit the vessel, or how advanced the technology, there is one element that is impossible to control: the human element. People, even highly trained professionals, will make mistakes. Though major pilot error happens rarely, the results can be truly devastating.

United Airlines Flight 173 (1978)

Suspecting a fault in the landing gear, the pilot of United 173 decided to abort landing and assess the situation. Though this was a prudent move, it proved costly. The crew became so absorbed with the suspected problem that they failed to properly monitor fuel levels. The plane ran out of fuel and went down in a suburban Portland neighborhood, killing two crew members and eight passengers.

TransAsia Flight 235 (2015)

Two minutes after takeoff, one of TransAsia 235’s engines suffered a type of failure known as a flameout. Ordinarily this would not lead to a crash, as modern airplanes are designed to run on one engine if necessary. Unfortunately, the pilot mistook the functioning engine for the malfunctioning one and shut it off. This left the plane powerless as the crew desperately scrambled to restart the engine and avoid the heavily populated cityscape below. One of the wings clipped a bridge and the plane crashed into a nearby river. Dashcam footage reveals just how close it came to wiping out the bridge out entirely.