Ten major international airlines disasters in the past 50 years


Malaysia Airlines said a flight carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has gone missing. (AFP/Getty Images)

As the search for a vanished Malaysian Airlines plane extends into the third day, fear and frustration have overtaken hope in what has become one of the most puzzling aviation disasters in history. About 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine countries are combing a vast area of ocean in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, northeast of Malaysia toward Vietnam. As my colleagues reported this morning, the search is now being extended into the Andaman Sea, given reports that the plane had turned back, implying that it crossed the Malaysian peninsula without being detected by radar operators.

The last commercial flight disappearance similar to the Malaysia Airlines flight was in 2009, when an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris lost radar contact after leaving  Brazilian airspace, and part of its wreckage was only found five days later in the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some of the other major international airlines disasters that have taken place in the past five decades.

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

On March 16, 1962, a Lockheed Super Constellation chartered by the U.S. military disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. The plane was carrying 96 military passengers and 11 crew members from Travis Air Force Base in California and was headed for Saigon, Vietnam. The disappearance of the Flying Tiger Line plane led to one of the largest search operations ever mounted, involving 48 aircraft  and eight surface vessels and covering an area of more than 200,000 square miles. Nothing was ever found. The crew of a Liberian tanker reported sighting a "bright light strong enough to light" a ship's deck about 500 miles west of Guam, which the U.S. officials said "may have been the missing aircraft exploding in flight."

Air India 855

Shortly after Air India's Boeing 747-237B made a right turn over the Arabian Sea after leaving Bombay on Jan. 1, 1978, it began rolling to the left and never regained control. The plane crashed off the coast of Bandra, killing all 213 people on board, making it one of the biggest air disasters in Indian aviation history. An investigation into the crash concluded that the cause of the accident was "irrational control inputs by the captain" that prevented the crew from regaining control of the plane.

Japan Airlines 123

Twelve minutes after taking off from Tokyo on Aug. 12, 1985, and headed for Osaka, the Japan Airlines' Boeing 747SR experienced unusual vibration and control problems. The plane descended quickly from 23,900 feet to 6,000 feet, and 32 minutes later, crashed into Osutaka Ridge.  The explosion led to the death of 520 passengers on board, making it the deadliest single-aircraft disaster in the world. Only four passengers survived.

TWA 800


This animated reenactment, created by the Central Intelligence Agency, shows the disintegration of TWA Flight 800. (CIA/AP)

A Boeing 747-100 operated by Trans World Airlines exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on July 17, 1996. The plane was carrying 230 people from New York to Rome, all of whom were killed in the crash. A four-year investigation by NTSB concluded that the crash occurred following an explosion in the fuel tank, which was most likely caused by a short circuit. However, conspiracy theorists continued to speculate that TWA 800 was brought down by a missile from a U.S. military aircraft and that the government was covering it up.

Egypt Air 990


Engine wreckage from EgyptAir Flight 990 is seen at the former Quonset Point Navy Base in Kingstown, Rhode Island. (AFP/Getty Images)

On Oct. 31, 1999, Egypt Air's Boeing 767-300ER plane, flying from Los Angeles to Cairo via New York City, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket, Mass., killing 217 passengers. The crash of the plane became controversial after two differing reports on the incident were filed — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the crash was caused deliberately by one of the pilots, while the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority denied the U.S. report and concluded that the crash was due to mechanical failures.

Flash Airlines 604

A Boeing 737-300 operated by the Egyptian Flash Airlines crashed into the Red Sea shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Jan. 3, 2004. The plane was carrying 135 passengers, of which the majority were French tourists. Investigations into the crash reported that no conclusive evidence could be found to determine the real cause. The crash is known to be the deadliest in Egypt airline industry.

Pulkovo Airlines 612


The Tupolev Tu-154 passenger jet was pictured just about 30 minutes before it crashed. (RTR/AP)

On Aug. 22, 2006, a Tupolev Tu-154 flying from the Russian city of Anapa to St. Petersburg  sent three SOS signals before disappearing from radar contact and then crashing in eastern Ukraine, killing all 170 people on board. Russia's Interstate Aviation Authority, also known as MAK, said in an investigation that the plane lost its control when the pilots made an attempt to avoid areas of turbulence and thunderstorms, and then started dropping sharply before crashing in a village.

Gol Airlines 1907

A Boeing 737-8EH operated by Brazilian Gol Transportes Aéreos broke up during flight after it collided with a business jet on Sept. 29, 2006, killing all 154 people traveling from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro. In its investigation, the NTSB pointed its finger at Brazilian air traffic controllers who essentially directed the two planes to "operate in opposite directions on the same airway at the same altitude." However, a report released by Brazil's aviation safety organization said that the American pilots flying the private jet were partly to blame for "apparently turning off cockpit equipment meant to alert other planes to its presence."

Air France 447

The last plane to mysteriously disappear before the Malaysia Airlines flight was and Airbus A330 operated by Air France, which was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. Major parts of the wreckage of the plane were only found five days later in the Atlantic Ocean, indicating that the plane had crashed and broken apart upon impact, killing all 228 people on board. A French report published almost three years later concluded that the crash was caused by a combination of human and technical errors. The investigation of Air France 447 took a considerably long time because the plane's black boxes were not recovered from the ocean until May 2011.

Dana Air Flight 992

On June 3, 2012, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft operated by Nigeria's Dana Air crashed into  a building in Lagos, killing 153 passengers on board and 10 people on the ground. In a report, Nigeria's Accident Investigation Bureau said that the crash was caused by a forced landing made after dual engine failures on the aircraft. Days after the crash, the country's civil aviation authority grounded all of Dana Air's planes and suspended its license.

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Anup Kaphle is the Post's digital foreign editor. He has an M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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