As we go about our days, there are always thousands of people above us, flying from place to place. At times, we may be one of those travelers relying on an airline to get us from one point to another safely.
Flying has proven very safe in the history of commercial flight, but every year there are tragic reminders of the dangers that come with traveling above the clouds. Pilots can make mistakes, airplanes can malfunction, and storms can become dangerous obstacles.
Some of the worst airplane crashes in the United States remind us that we are always vulnerable when we book a flight and board a plane.
American Airlines Flight 191- Des Plaines, Illinois – 1979
On May 25, 1979, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed just after take off from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. It was bound for Los Angeles.
Investigators say that during takeoff one of the plane’s engines fell off and dropped to the runway. The difference in the lift provided by the McDonnell Douglas DC-10’s damaged wing and its intact wing caused the plane to turn in the air. The pilots could not control the craft. It crashed about a mile from the end of the runway in a field near a mobile home park.
258 passengers and 13 crewmembers tragically lost their lives. Two people on the ground, working at a repair shop, also tragically died. The disaster is the deadliest airplane accident ever in the United States.
A memorial consisting of a concave brick wall now stands on the shores of Lake Opeka, two miles from the crash site. The bricks bear the names of all 273 victims of the air disaster.
American Airlines Flight 587 – New York City – 2001
Flight 587 was leaving JFK International Airport for the Dominican Republic when it crashed into a neighborhood in Queens, New York just after takeoff. 251 passengers and 9 Crewmembers were claimed in the tragic disaster on November 12, 2001. Five bystanders on the ground were also killed for a total of 265 victims. That makes this crash the second deadliest in U.S. history.
The Airbus A300 crash was blamed on the first officer’s aggressive use of rudder controls as the plane traveled through the wake of a Boeing 747 that had just taken off. The airliner’s two engines and a vertical stabilizer detached from the plane. With a loss of the means for the pilot to control the plane, the craft went into a spin and fell back to earth.
A memorial for Flight 587 was erected in Rockaway Park to the east of the crash site. It includes gaps in a stone wall that signify windows and a doorway angled towards the Atlantic Ocean and the Dominican Republic.
TWA Flight 800 – New York – Atlantic Ocean – 1996
Trans World Flight 800 exploded shortly after take-off from JFK International Airport and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. It was heading for Rome on July 17, 1996.
230 passengers and crewmembers lost their lives. Investigators ruled that fuel vapors exploded in the Boeing 747’s center fuel tank. The powerful explosion ripped the plane’s cabin into two pieces.
A 2-Acre TWA Flight 800 Memorial now sits at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, New York. The memorial overlooks the ocean and includes a curved black granite wall surrounded by landscaped grounds. A granite lighthouse has since been added to the site.
Northwest Airlines Flight 255 – Romulus, Michigan – 1987
On August 16, 1997, Northwest Airlines Flight left Detroit Metropolitan Airport en route to stops in Phoenix and Santa Ana. The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 never gained sufficient altitude and crashed shortly after leaving the ground. Its wing struck a light pole in the rental car parking lot. The craft then rolled and hit an Avis Rental Car Building. The MD-82 wound up inverted as it crashed into Middlebelt Road.
NTSB investigators found that the probable cause of the accident was that the flight crew hadn’t properly extended the wings’ flaps and slats for takeoff. They also noted that the airplane’s takeoff warning system didn’t have electrical power to enable it to warn the crew of a problem.
The accident killed six crewmembers and 148 of the 149 passengers. A 4-year-old girl miraculously survived the accident. Two people traveling in a car also lost their lives. Five other people on the ground were injured.
At least three memorial sites now honor the victims. A black granite memorial stands over Middlebelt Road and Interstate 94. A monument can be found next to Phoenix City Hall because many of the victims were on their way home to Arizona. Another memorial was erected at the General Motors Proving Ground to remember 14 GM employees and seven family members who were lost in the crash.
Pan Am Flight 759 – Kenner, Louisiana – 1982
Pan Am Flight 759 took off from New Orleans International Airport heading for stops in Las Vegas and San Diego. The pilots encountered microburst wind shear immediately after liftoff. The flight was pushed downward and the plane clipped a line of trees at the end of the runway.
The plane came crashing down on a residential area in a suburb of New Orleans almost a mile from the end of the runway. Several homes were destroyed.
The July 9, 1982 disaster claimed 138 passengers, 7 crewmembers, and 8 people on the ground.
A memorial to the accident is located in the courtyard of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Kenner, Louisiana.
Remembering the Victims of The Worst Air Disasters in the United States
Each life lost in these tragedies, affected countless friends and families, and left them to cope with emotional pain they will never get over. It would be nice to think that recent safety advances could prevent all plane tragedies in our modern age. Yet, accidents still happen and the push for safer airplanes and improvements in transportation safety devices and protocols should never cease.
Our list covers plane crashes that are believed to be accidents and doesn’t cover disasters that were caused by terrorist acts or were thought to be intentional acts.