Aviation accidents are so rare that they naturally grab the headlines. Some plane crashes, however, have left lasting imprints due to their unique circumstances or indelible images. Although not the deadliest in American history, these seven plane crashes are among the most unforgettable.
1. Empire State Building B-25 accident (1945)
Heavy fog enveloped a B-25 Mitchell bomber as it approached Manhattan on a routine flight from Massachusetts to New Jersey on the Saturday morning of July 28, 1945. Flying at an altitude of 1,000 feet in heavy fog , the 10-ton plane suddenly slammed into the north side of the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th floors. Debris littered the streets below. An engine completely tore the structure, the tallest in the world at the time, and sparked a fire that destroyed a penthouse art studio across the street. The crash killed the three US servicemen on board the bomber and 11 people in the skyscraper, including employees of the National Catholic Welfare Conference who were assembling medical packages for soldiers overseas. Firefighters extinguished the resulting blaze within 40 minutes, preventing the building from becoming structurally compromised. Memories of the crash were stirred when terrorists deliberately flew two airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
2. Grand Canyon mid-air collision (1956)
Another American landmark was the backdrop to a terrible tragedy on June 30, 1956. That morning, TWA Flight 2 took off from Los Angeles for Kansas City. Three minutes later, United Airlines Flight 718 departed Los Angeles for Chicago. Incredibly, their paths would cross 400 miles above the Grand Canyon where the two pilots, who operated under visual ‘see and avoid’ rules, dodged a storm cloud with the TWA Lockheed L-1049 Super. Constellation passing on the left and the United Douglas DC -7 on the right. As the airliners emerged on intersecting tracks at 21,000 feet, the left wing of United’s aircraft struck the tail of the TWA and sliced through the rear of its fuselage. Both planes plunged to the bottom of the canyon, and all 128 aboard both planes The deadliest U.S. aircraft crash at the time led to a congressional investigation and spurred the creation of the modern system of control air traffic.
3. Air Florida Flight 90 (1982)
As heavy snowfall blanketed Washington, DC, on January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 was heading for warmer climates in Tampa and Fort. Lauderdale. With ice and snow weighing down on its wings, the Boeing 737-222 struggled to rise above the runway at the domestic airport and never climbed above 400 feet before to lose altitude. The airliner struck seven occupied vehicles on the 14th Street Bridge, a mile north of the airport, before collapsing into the icy Potomac River. A spectacular rescue operation that included US Park Police helicopters, passers-by, and Pentagon personnel managed to rescue four passengers and a flight attendant from the mid-pack ice, but 74 people on the plane and four motorists on the bridge died. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited pilot error and improper de-icing procedures as the causes of the crash. In 1985, the 14th Street Bridge was renamed in honor of Arland Williams, Jr., who died of his injuries after passing lifelines to other passengers.
4. United Airlines Flight 232 (1989)
Departing for Chicago from Denver on July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 suffered a catastrophic tail engine failure which severed its hydraulic lines and destroyed the flight control systems of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Unable to control airspeed, sink rate, landing gear, or brakes, the crew attempted an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, adjusting the thrust of the two remaining engines. Landing on a closed runway at Sioux Gateway Airport, the plane’s right wing struck first and, as a news video showed, its fuel immediately ignited. As the tail and cockpit shattered on impact, the main fuselage bounced several times, rolled onto its back, and came to rest upside down in a cornfield. Although 112 died from the force of the impact and smoke inhalation, the majority of the 296 passengers and crew, including the pilots, survived.
5. Learjet N47BA (1999)
The country was captivated on October 25, 1999, when news broke that air traffic controllers had lost radio contact with a Learjet 35 that had deviated hundreds of miles from its intended flight path from Orlando to Dallas. US Air Force and Air National Guard pilots who rushed to intercept the plane reported that they could not see inside the crew cabin because the windshield appeared be covered with frost or condensation. The plane continued to travel northwest until it ran out of fuel and crashed in a field near Aberdeen, South Dakota. Reigning US Open golf champion Payne Stewart was among six people killed. The NTSB reported that the probable cause of the crash was the inability of both pilots due to loss of cabin pressure and inability to obtain emergency oxygen.
6. Reno Air Races (2011)
Veteran pilot Jimmy Leeward wowed crowds at the annual National Championship races in Reno, Nevada on September 16, 2011, as he flew his highly modified P-51 Mustang past the 500-mile barrier at the hour for the first time in its history. . After “The Galloping Ghost”, his WWII military aircraft, made a sharp turn around a pylon, he suddenly pitched up with 17G of acceleration, neutralizing Leeward. The plane then rolled over and nosed down towards the crowd. As the video shows, it crashed into the airstrip apron at over 400 miles per hour in front of the grandstand seats. The plane disintegrated on contact, killing Leeward and 10 spectators and injuring more than 60 people. An NTSB investigation determined that loose screws on the tailplane and unprecedented speed caused the crash.
7. Asiana Airlines Flight 214 (2013)
In a clear sky on July 6, 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 approached San Francisco International Airport at extremely low altitude and slow speed. The Boeing 777-200ER that took off from Seoul, South Korea with 307s on board cut a dike just before the runway. As shown in the video, the impact sheared the tail of the aircraft and sent the fuselage into a violent spin. Most of the passengers escaped through the emergency chutes after the right engine caught fire, but three passengers died. Among the 187 injured, four flight attendants were thrown onto the runway while strapped to their seats when the tail snapped. An NTSB investigation determined that the flight crew mismanaged the final approach and that the aircraft’s airspeed control system was inadvertently disabled.