When it comes to airplane crashes, a large chunk of them is the result of pilot error or severe weather. Around 20 to 25 percent of the time, though, there’s a mechanical error due to a fault on an airplane. While these crashes aren’t always deadly, they can be catastrophic in the rare event that it does happen. Here are five incidents where airplane faults led to tragic crashes.
Death of Roberto Clemente
On New Year’s Eve 1972, baseball legend Roberto Clemente and four more people were onboard a Douglas DC-7CF en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake had devastated the city. Clemente had been spending time in Managua due to coaching the Puerto Rico baseball team and was making a personal effort to provide aid to those affected.
Proper maintenance wasn’t performed on the aircraft, though, and the number two engine failed upon takeoff. The pilot attempted to return to Puerto Rico, and when the plane began descending too quickly tried to take it down into the ocean. Unfortunately, the landing would end up fatal and all five people onboard lost their lives. The pilot was made unaware that earlier in the month, improper maintenance had caused a minor crash for the plane.
American Airlines Flight 1
In what is now John F. Kennedy International Airport, American Airlines Flight 1 took off en route to Los Angeles International Airport on March 1, 1962. The aircraft was one of the newest on the American Airlines lines of Boeing 707s, and it seemed that everything passed the preflight check. After taking off, though, the pilot attempted to make a turn to begin heading west before the plane banked and inverted, initiating a nosedive into the Pumpkin Patch Channel of Jamaica Bay.
It wasn’t the pilot’s fault that the plane was unable to make the turn, however. An investigation into the crash showed that the autopilot system was faulty and it resulted in the rudder system being unable to function properly. All 95 people onboard lost their lives as a result of the improper maintenance, including Olympic gold medalist Emelyn Whiton and a pair of multi-millionaires.
Aeroflot Flight 8641
With more than 120 passengers onboard, Aeroflot Flight 8641 was scheduled to leave Leningrad, Russia, and arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 28, 1982. There were no issues with the flight’s precheck as it only departed one minute late (due to a passenger coming on board late) and the flight was a smooth one to Kyiv. As it began its landing, though, that’s when the trouble started.
The autopilot system began making the descent angle too sharp and ultimately shut off after the plane started going into a sharp drop. The pilots attempted to pull up, but it was too late as the aircraft crashed at nearly 500 miles per hour, resulting in the death of all 132 onboard. The investigation determined the cause of the crash was the jackscrew mechanism not functioning because of improper maintenance that led to metal fatigue.
Finnish Air Force DC-3
Carrying many businesspeople and politicians on their way to a meeting formed by the Finnish Defence Forces, The Finnish Air Force took a DC-3 out of Utti Airport on October 3, 1978. It successfully made it to its stopover at Kuopio Airport, but trouble began when it was headed for its ultimate destination of Helsinki. Just seconds after taking off, one of the engines lost power.
The pilot attempted to make a quick return to the airport, but without the engine, couldn’t make the turn. Winds also played a factor as the aircraft quickly lost altitude and crashed, claiming the lives of all 15 onboard. The report found that the exhaust valve had cracked due to fatigue, resulting in the total engine failure that played a factor into the crash.
USAir Flight 427
On September 8, 1994, USAir Flight 427 was scheduled to take off from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, and make a stopover in Pittsburgh before then heading to Palm Beach, Florida. There were 132 people aboard the Boeing 737-3B7 that day, many of whom were hoping to take a nice vacation in Florida.
Things seemed fine until the flight was arriving in Pittsburgh and started experiencing turbulence. The pilot, Captain Peter Germano, attempted to go against the wind but the rudder malfunctioned and went in the opposite direction. This caused the airplane to stall and the pilots could not recover. There were no survivors as the craft crashed hard at 300 miles per hour.