Air accidents

Other Names:
Aircraft collisions
Airplane near-collisions

An aviation accident is an event during aircraft operation that causes serious injury, death, or destruction. An aviation incident is any operating event that compromises safety but does not progress to an actual accident. Preventing accidents and incidents is the main goal of aviation safety.

The first fatal aviation accident occurred on 10 May 1785, when a hot air balloon crashed in the town of Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland. The town was seriously damaged from the resultant fire that burned down over 130 homes. The first involving a powered aircraft was the crash of a Wright Model A aircraft at Fort Myer, Virginia, in the United States on September 17, 1908, injuring its co-inventor and pilot, Orville Wright, and killing the passenger, Signal Corps lieutenant Thomas Selfridge.


There were an average of about 20 fatal aircraft accidents per year in the early 1980s, among scheduled services with, on average, 20 to 40 fatalities per accident. In 1980 and 1981 combined, the actual figures were 39 accidents with 1176 fatalities. Per 100 million passenger-kilometres the range of fatalities is about 0.04; the number of fatal aircraft accidents per 100,000 aircraft hours flown is about 0.12; and the number of fatal aircraft accidents per 100,000 landings, about 0.17 (in 1981). Additionally, non-scheduled commercial operations reported to the ICAO showed 47 fatal accidents, 1980-81, with 520 fatalities. Complete statistical information on safety in general (private) aviation operations is not available on a worldwide basis, but estimates put the range at about 1,000 fatal accidents per year with about 2,000 deaths. The above figures, which exclude the USSR, indicate that aviation accidents cause over 2,000 deaths annually, excluding military aviation accidents. The fatalities for the scheduled commercial operations alone totalled some 16,000 over the twenty year period ending December, 1981. These were caused by 562 fatal accidents. This averages 28 fatal accidents per year with an average of about 30 fatalities. Total fatalities in the twenty year period for all aviation must be placed in the 30,000 range, conservatively, and in the post-war period since the 1940s, at least 50,000. The number of people who have been involved in some kind of air accident in the post-war period, and who were killed, maimed, injured, or merely shocked as a result, has to be placed in the range of several hundred thousand.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, October 31, 1999, EgyptAir 990, a Boeing 767-300ER (Extended Range) aircraft, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Kennedy Airport, killing 217 people. This was the third such accident in recent years, following TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747-100 that crashed July 1, 1996, killing 230 people; and Swissair Flight 111, a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 that crashed on September 2, 1998, killing 229 people.

Earlier major air disasters include: Paris 1974 (346 killed) Tenerife 1977 (582), Chicago 1979 (273), Riyadh 1980 (301), Korean 1983 (269), Japan 1985 (520), Arab Gulf 1988 (290), Lockerbie 1988 (270), Nagoya 1994 (262).

In 1992, an Israeli El Al cargo jet plowed into a low-income housing complex near Amsterdam in 1992, killing 43 people and injuring dozens. The cause of the crash was established fairly quickly: fatigue in a "fuse pin" on the engine mount. But only in 1998 it was revealed that apart from electronics, flowers and perfume, as originally claimed, the aircraft carried also DMMP (part of a combination of elements used to make sarin nerve gas) and 270 kilograms of depleted uranium, used for ballast in the tail section of the older aircraft.

Narrower Problems:
Military aircraft accidents
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST