Why do Planes Crash?


As the mystery of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 still remains unsolved, discussions continue on what can really cause an airplane to crash.

Physical errors account for only a small part of the plane crashes. In about half of all crashes that include deaths pilots have made mistakes. Navigational errors are among the most common causes of plane crashes. Planes are flown into a mountain or the sea out of a variety of reasons. Sometimes weather conditions are bad, in other cases pilots have made bad judgements.


One example is an American plane that crashed into the Everglades in Florida at the beginning of the 1970s. The crash happened when the crew concentrated on the malfunctioning of a light while, in the meantime, the autopilot was switched to a descent.

In 1996 a Peruvian airliner crashed into the sea after the computer stopped working. The crew had almost no data left to work with and didn't know at which height they were flying when they hit the water. The worst crash involving mechanical failure happened in 1985 when a Japan Airlines flight crashed into a mountain and killed over 500 people.

Other crashes occurred after a series of unfortunate events. In 1977 almost 600 people got killed when two planes were heading at full speed towards each other and collided in heavy fog on the runway in Tenerife. The crash happened after planes had been guided to Tenerife because Gran Canary airport was closed.

In June 2009 an Air France airbus disappeared off the coast of Brazil.  Although the wreckage was found after a few days it took investigators almost three years to find out what had really happened to the plane.


Pilots are criticising the way planes are built. In the past decades the structure of planes has changed. More computers and automated systems are taking over, the pilot often has no alternatives left.



Related Topics



  • account for = are the reason for
  • airliner = airplane
  • although = while
  • automated system = system in which computers or robots do most things and humans have little control
  • bad judgement = wrong decision
  • cause = reason
  • coast= shore, where land meets the sea
  • collide = crash
  • common = very often
  • condition = situation
  • data = information
  • decade = a period of ten years
  • descent = go down
  • disappear = to go away without warning
  • error= mistake
  • fog = cloudy air near the ground, in which it is difficult to see through
  • full speed = as fast as something can move
  • guide = direct, lead
  • height = how high something is
  • in the meantime = while this happened
  • include = involve
  • investigator = a person who tries to find out why something happened
  • malfunction = to work in a wrong way; the breakdown of something
  • mechanical = physical, relating to the plane itself
  • occur = happen
  • remain = stay
  • series = many
  • switch = change to
  • unfortunate = unlucky
  • variety = very many different
  • wreckage = the broken parts of an object; what is left over after an accident