16 Most Mysterious Aviation Disasters in History
At the time of this publishing, only 70 out of the 162 people on board AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501 have been recovered. It’s still a mystery as to how the flight went down when it disappeared on the Sunday morning of December 28th, 2014. Java Sea Indonesia Search and Rescue are still working to find more bodies, but hopes are fading rapidly. There’s been a lot of unsolved and other mysterious aviation disasters throughout history; such as multiple disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle and Amelia Earhart. Let’s take a look at the top 15 most mysterious aviation disasters in our history.
Aer Lingus Flight 712
On March 24th, 1968, all 61 passengers and crew died while flying from Cork to London. An investigation into the crash eventually led to belief that an experimental British missile caused the devastation. However, after two years, there never was a true cause linked to the disaster.
Immediately after the crash, rescue efforts couldn’t find any wreckage; however wreckage was found the following day. The plane was scattered across six nautical miles. 14 bodies were rescued but there were no survivors. The majority of passengers were Irish, but there were a few Americans on board. The unique aspect of this crash is that, unlike most airlines that would discontinue the use of a flight number, Aer Lingus still uses Flight 712 today.
TWA Flight 800
All 230 passengers and crew died in the third-deadliest aviation accident in US territory back on July 17th, 1996. Air traffic control in the New York and Long Island area received reports that the plane exploded into a ball of fire and dropped into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York. Two separate investigations took place by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Investigations were triggered by the suspicion that there was criminal activity on the flight.
The FBI closed their investigation within 16 months citing not enough evidence, but it took the NTSB much longer to reach the conclusion that the highest probability of cause was a short circuit that triggered an explosion in the fuel tank. Investigators determined that there were no preflight faults such as mechanical damage and that a missile did not hit Flight 800.
One of the strangest mysteries is the US government losing a bomber carrying nuclear weapons. Back in 1956, a B47 Statojet was lost across the Mediterranean Sea. Nothing from the flight, including crew, debris, or the missiles were ever recovered.
Reports say that the three manning the aircraft were descending into a cloud while trying to refuel for a second time. No one made contact with the tanker. Luckily, the nukes were never a threat to start a nuclear war; as there are plenty of safety precautions to avoid such issues when a plane is going down. The US government has a lost a total of 11 nukes, and two of them that still remain the biggest mystery are from this flight.
USAir Flight 427
Two different aircrafts of the same flight number were involved in accidents in the same year, but this one from USAir back in September 8th, 1994, killed all 132 crew and passengers on board. On a path from Chicago, Illinois, to West Palm Beach, Florida, Flight 427 was making a stop at Pittsburgh. Upon arrival, the crew lost control of the aircraft when it made loud thumps, clicking sounds, and was rolling over. In a span of minutes, the plane nose-dived into Hopewell Township in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and barely missed a shopping mall.
After a four and a half year investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board, they determined that the probable cause was due to the ” movement of the rudder surface to its blowdown limit“. Essentially, there was a jam in the rudder power control unit that caused the pilots to lose control.
United Airlines Flight 585
Similar to Flight 427, Flight 585 was the probable result of a malfunctioned rudder power control unit. The crash was shocking due to the history of the flight crew. Captain Harold Green and First Officer Patricia Eidson had close to 14,000 flight hours combined and were some of the highest-regarded pilots that always followed procedure. All 25 crew and passengers died in the March 3rd, 1991 accident.
The initial investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which concluded 21 months after the crash, couldn’t determine the cause, that is until the investigation was reopened after the Flight 427 incident a few years later. The plane was headed from Denver, Colorado, to Colorado Springs. Approaching the runway, the plane took a nosedive to the right and crashed into Widefield Park at a reported 245 miles per hour.
All the way back on July 2nd, 1937, Earhart had the intention of becoming the first woman to fly around the world. Along with Captain Fred Noonan, the two mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while close to Howland Island in a Lockheed Electra 10E. Her last radio calls were on low fuel and she was unsure of her whereabouts, but felt like they arrived at the island. In actuality, she was approximately five nautical miles to the west.
Within an hour of her last broadcast, a search effort was ultimately unsuccessful in finding zero wreckage, debris, or Earhart and Noonan. She was declared dead two years later, but there is a large amount of conspiracy theories on the event. The most accepted is crashing in the water in a completely different area than she thought. Another is crashing over two hours away at Gardner Island.
Flying Tiger Line Flight 739
The disappearance of Flight 739 back on March 16th, 1962, still remains a puzzle and is the worst aviation accident in the Lockheed Constellation series. There was no reported accident involving the flight, but there’s belief that the plane was involved in an in-flight explosion from a potential witness of a civilian tanker. No wreckage, debris, or bodies were ever found from search and rescue efforts of the US military.
Without wreckage, there was no way to determine probable cause of the accident. The explosion remains the best cause, but there is a conspiracy theory. The L-1049 Super Constellation, which took off from the Travis Air Force Base on the same day, crashed in the Aleutian Islands. Sabotage could have been in play.
Comair Flight 5191 (or Flight 191)
Pilot error could have been the cause of a strange crash that involved a mix-up of runways back on August 27th, 2006. At Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, 49 of the 50 passengers and crew died while taking off from the airport. Instead of using runway 22 as expected, they used runway 26 which had too short of a path for a safe takeoff. Captain Jeffrey Clay confirmed using runway 22 but took a left too early according to the map.
First Officer James Polehinke was the only survivor after suffering broken bones, one collapsed lung, and severe bleeding. While ultimate blame was put on the captain because he didn’t abort liftoff despite questioning his surroundings, the airport was found to be using outdated maps and had needed to improve runway markings and conditions.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571
One of the most amazing stories involving a plane crash was back in October 13, 1972. Flight 571 crashed in the Andes Mountains while going from Uruguay to Chile. Because of poor viewing conditions, the wings of the plane were clipped by the mountains and crashed in an unknown location. The plane was white, so search and rescue efforts from the sky were almost impossible despite the survivors’ attempt to become noticeable.
After 11 days, search and rescue stopped and presumed all 45 passengers and crew died. As the survivors heard this, two of those passengers had a 10-day journey to report what really happened. After 72 days, 16 people were finally rescued from the mountains. Not everyone died in the crash, but avalanches and injuries among other problems caused more deaths afterwards.
Egypt Air Flight 990
Contrasting investigations from the US and Egypt make this one of the most interesting cases back on October 31st, 1999. All 217 passengers and crew died in a crash into the Atlantic Ocean heading from Los Angeles, California, to Cairo, Egypt. Because the accident happened in Egyptian territory, their government initially led a search and rescue but lacked enough resources to carry it forward. Eventually, it signed off the responsibility to the US.
When the National Transportation Safety Board considered it a criminal event, the Egyptian government grew unhappy with how the investigation was being conducted and launched their own investigation. They believed it was due to mechanical failure, but the NTSB believes if that was the case, it was recoverable. The NTSB investigation concluded two years after the incident that probable cause was from the first officer’s controls and the reason for action is unknown. The flight voice recorder has evidence that the officer may have shut off the engines, and the officer repeated “I rely on God” during the incident.
Pan Am Flight 7
Also known as the “Clipper Romance of the Skies”, Flight 7 went around the world from San Francisco, California, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The crash could have been the resulting of a malfunctioning engine when heading to its first stop in Hawaii, but the results are ultimately curious if this was a planned attack.
Wreckage was found well off from the route the plane was taking, and toxicology reports from the 44 crew and passengers that died had high levels of carbon monoxide. There is no cause after the accident back on November 9th, 1957, but an interesting probable motive was an explosive device that was on the aircraft because of insurance fraud.
Air France Flight 447
Search and rescue was the toughest part in trying to solve the mystery of Flight 447’s disappearance over the Atlantic Ocean back on June 1st, 2009. Wreckage was found days after the incident, but probable cause couldn’t properly be determined until they found the black box around two years later. 74 of the 228 bodies remain in the water after the search was finally called off.
Flight 447 was going from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Probable cause was a disconnect from autopilot due to ice crystals in the pitot tubes. With an aerodynamic stall, the crew couldn’t recover and eventually it led to the plane falling into the ocean.
D.B. Cooper and Northwest Airlines Flight 305
While this wasn’t a crash, it’s still one of the craziest unsolved mysteries involving aviation back on November 24th, 1971. Known as “Dan Cooper”. he hopped aboard the plane in Portland, Oregon. He demanded that the airline give him $200,000, four parachutes, and a refueling truck in Seattle, Washington. Upon receiving his demands, D.B. Cooper released all 36 passengers unharmed. After refueling, he was finally back in the air with the intention of going to Mexico, but ultimately decided with the crew that a second refueling would happen in Reno, Nevada.
Shortly after takeoff, it was determined that Cooper jumped off the plane after warning lights flashed on the dashboard and air pressure changed. Flight 305 was searched at the airport and Cooper wasn’t anywhere on it. Cooper, and the $200,000 he left with, has never been found.
Flight 19 and the Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle is arguably the biggest mystery of aviation. Five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, classified as Flight 19, all disappeared in the area between Florida, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. An investigation from the Navy ultimately found Charles C. Taylor, who navigated the planes, not guilty of the incident because there was no evidence found that could link him to navigation issues.
All that’s known is Taylor mistakenly thought he passed over the Florida Keys and instead went over the Bahamas (as scheduled). There were also compass malfunctions on the plane. All 13 crew members of the plane are assumed dead. Interestingly enough, a PBM Mariner that was a search and rescue aircraft for Flight 19 also disappeared. Reports say that there was an explosion seen by witnesses and the Mariner was prone to explosion when fully loaded with fuel.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
One of the most interesting mysteries happened in 2014, when Flight 370 disappeared on March 8th when heading to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. All 239 passengers and crew are still considered missing but are presumed dead. No clues to wreckage or debris has been found. Search efforts began at the Gulf of Thailand when Flight 370’s signal was first lost. What hasn’t helped in the disappearance was speculation on when the plane exactly disappeared. The Malaysian government concludes that the flight ” ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
It’s been a tragic year for Malaysia Airlines, who had another tragedy in July that saw Flight 17 go down — another Boeing 777. All 298 passengers and crew die after being shot down over Ukraine.
Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501
All 162 crew and passengers died in the recent ill-fated flight from Indonesia to Singapore. Radar contact was lost 40 minutes after takeoff and was officially declared missing after another 40 minutes had passed. Flight 8501 missed its scheduled stop at Singapore approximately one hour and 55 minutes after takeoff.
After reports of debris and wreckage in the Karimata Strait, search and rescue were left picking up the pieces of some of the aircraft and found bodies in the water. Efforts of piecing together the tragic night are still in progress. It’s anticipated that bad weather played a large role in taking down Flight 8501, with a report from Indonesian meteorological experts saying that icing could have caused engine damage/malfunction.