The Biggest Airplane Disasters

By: Andrew Chapados
Markus Mainka /

From Amelia Earhart and the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle in 1937 all the way up to the controversy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, aviation crashes are always surrounded by a bulk of mystery as we search for answers. Sometimes they are even poorly reported; for instance Asiana Flight 214 in 2013-and other times they are tales of survival worthy of feature films, like Uruguyan Air Force Flight 571 -but most of all they are tragic. Unfortunately, 2014 included 18 such incidents, some military and others commercial. Even more disheartening, a few were even intentional. Despite 2014 actually being noted as the safest year in aviation history, the year past showcased some of the most widely covered plane crashes ever recorded, with some taking months to uncover even the smallest pieces of evidence. Let’s review 5 of the biggest airplane disasters of 2014 and in some cases, of all time.


Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 – The Beginning of Another Conflict

The Ilyushin Il-76 military plane that was shot down on June 14, 2014 is a case of spy versus spy. The Lugansk People’s Republic is said to have shot down the military craft carrying 40 paratroopers and nine crewmembers. While it was originally thought to be taken down by anti-aircraft guns, evidence was found of empty Igla missiles near the crash site close to Lugansk Airport.

In the usual case of “he said/she said” that typically goes on between Russia and Ukraine, a Russian source went as far to claim that neither body parts nor military armaments were found at the crash site, alluding that the plane was actually empty the entire time. This would have meant the plane was intended to transport bodies of deceased soldiers but didn’t have any aboard at that time. As usual, revenge was promised and both sides blamed one another. At least there was a day of mourning.


Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – Caught Between Two Sides

On July 17th a massive Boeing 777-200ER lost contact with air traffic control approximately 50 km from the Russia-Ukraine border on its way to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. According to American and German intelligence, pro-Russian separatists near Donestsk Oblast, Ukraine shot down the jet.

All 283 passengers and 15 crewmembers of the Malaysia Airlines flight were tragically killed in the incident including 27 Australians, 43 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Brits and 193 Dutch. Donbass separatists claimed responsibility until it was revealed it was a commercial airliner at which point they backed down. Of course, Russia put the entirety of the blame on Ukraine in a rather sad circumstance of wrong place, wrong time.


TransAsia Airways Flight 222 – Natural Disaster

Flight 222 is one of the very rare cases where a plane actually strikes a civilian building. The plane (an ATR 72-500) is a mid-size craft with two propellers, so it is lucky in the sense that if the plane were bigger there would have been more damage & additional casualties. On July 23rd, the flight (which was initially delayed by weather) departed from Kaohsiung, Taiwan en route to Magong Airport, Penghu Island, Taiwan. The landing was also delayed 40 minutes before it was cleared for approach.

This is where the plane was thought to experience problems likely due to Typhoon Matmo, which passed over the location earlier in the day; radar revealed a large amount of rainfall during the time of the crash. The plane veered left on descent and crashed into two houses in the township of Huxi, resulting in a blaze that injured five on the ground. 48 of the 58 people on board were killed, including 2 French nationals among the rest of the Taiwanese passengers and crew. A total of 14.9 million New Taiwan (NT) dollars was paid out to each of the victim’s families as compensation for the crash, which equates to just under $500,000 USD.


Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – The Mystery Over the Pacific

2014 was certainly not a good year for Malaysia Airlines as Flight 370 went missing on March 8 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing; less than half an hour after take-off the Boeing 777-200ER disappeared from radar and was never seen again. All 227 passengers and 12 Malaysian crew are presumed dead. A multinational effort was quickly underway as the passengers on-board represented 15 countries, and as no one seemed to know what happened, this is where the mystery started and all sorts of theories and alleged evidence began hitting the media.

Stolen passports, asylum seekers, one-way tickets and cash-purchased fares were all part of the speculation surrounding what is considered one of the greatest aviation mysteries ever. The FBI reconstructed deleted data from flight simulators both pilots had used previously, but “nothing sinister” was found on it either. Because it was impossible to prove the cause of the accident, the airline was responsible to compensate each victim’s family $175,000, which totaled almost $40 million. On top of this, Malaysia Airlines suffered a huge setback in sales following the incident.On January 29, 2015 the Malaysian government officially declared that the flight was an accident with no survivors.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17


Olsberg Mid-Air Collision – A Bad Left Turn

During an exercise to simulate the interception of a civilian airliner, a Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet crashed in mid-air with an American made Learjet 35 on June 23rd. The crash over Olsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany occurred when the Learjet crashed into one of two Typhoons as both turned left. After the collision, both fell into a tailspin with the business jet landing just 100 meters from some residential houses.

Luckily for the jet it suffered critical damage but was still able to land near Cologne, Germany. Sadly, both Learjet crew perished in the crash. This was the first time in 10 years there had been a mid-air collision in German airspace. For reference, each Eurofigther Typhoon costs about £125 million after production plus development.


Costs of All Kinds

Not only are there a ton of elements that go into each and every aviation accident, there are repercussions that exist in many different ways. There are the deaths themselves and the toll they take on families, business costs each airline suffers from a loss of business, not to mention how much money is lost when a commercial airliner is destroyed.

The previously mentioned Eurofighter Typhoon’s approximate $200 million USD price tag seems small when compared to a Boeing jet, which can fetch a price close to $350 million. Piling on payouts to victim’s families (although deserved) and surrounding infrastructure, and the costs of airplane disasters can easily make their way into the billions. If there were any positive outcomes to stem from these accidents, they would be to learn from the mistakes. Whether it be radar tracking or flight techniques/regulations, flights such as Malaysia Airlines 370 (which remains a mystery) can teach the entire an industry the lesson that there is always more that can be learned, more that can be studied and taught. The reason that avoiding these events is so important is because each and every happenstance is incredibly detrimental to everyone that is involved.

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