There are quite number of plane crashes around the world that could make one to doubt if travel by air is safer. In fact, every year some flyers are killed or injured in air crash. According to International Civil Aviation Organization, in 2012, there were 9 fatal accidents involving airliners causing 372 deaths. More so, on 10th of December, 2005; a Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 crashed in Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria, killing all the 103 occupants on board. Painful enough most passengers on board were school children travelling home for Christmas holidays. In addition, the recent missing of one of the Malaysia Airlines-flight MH370 still remains a mystery in the heart of many people. All of this news could make one to be panic and wonder what could be the major reason of a passenger plane crashing. However, the following are the major causes of plane crashes.
Pilot Error: At least not less than the halves of all plane crashes are caused by pilot error. In other words, pilot error may account for 50% of all plane crashes. Source: Accident statistics.
Examples of pilots’ error responsible for plane crashes
In the year 2012, Sukhoi Superject 100 crashed into Mount Salak in Indonesia due to the pilots’ error. The pilots took the aircraft on demonstration flight or test flight for its potential buyers and journalists, however, the aircraft had Terrain Awareness and Warning System( TAWS), but this system had been switched off by the pilots who erroneously belief that the computer was malfunctioning. Unknown to them that they were closer to the said mountain, painfully; the crew who would have be in the better position to raise alarm to the pilots were also distracted by conversation with their potential buyers in the cockpit. The aircraft crashed and all the 45 occupants on board died.
More so, on 4th of June, 2012 a plane crashed in Nigeria killed all the 153 passengers on board. According to the people familiar with the joint investigation by US and Nigerian officials it was revealed that the crash was likely caused by pilots’ failure to turn on certain fuel pumps or valves.
In addition, in 1987, an aircraft flying to Tokyo also crashed because of a pilot who has psychological problems put the plane engines into reverse mid flight.
However, the above given percentage may seems so high to accept having known that most plane crashes are always a fatal accident in which many innocent people may lose their lives. Hence, one may be tempted to cast all the blames on pilots. However when you think about many thinks that a pilot has to do or face when flying a plane, for instance, sometimes pilots navigate through dangerous weather, they response to mechanical issues, they also, execute a safe takeoff and landing to mention but a few. One may think otherwise not to blame pilots for all the plane crashes. Pilots are extremely well trained and highly experienced people before they are allowed to control an airliner, but they are not infallible. Hence, the saying, ‘to err is human’. Besides, not all plane crashes are caused by pilots’ error; it may also be caused by other errors or factors. For example on 22nd of June, 2000, in Shitai, China, Wuhan AL plane was struck by lightning causing the plane to explode and crash. On 15th of January, 2009 in New York, New York a US Airways ditched in Hudson River after collision with Canadian Geese and there after losing the both engines. Source: Accident statistics
Mechanical Error: Another reason for plane crash is mechanical error. An aircraft could be likened to a machine; sometimes a machine could suddenly develop a mechanical fault. If a plane flying on the air and suddenly develops a mechanical fault that the pilots could not easily handle, you can imagine what could happen to such a plane. Let us also imagine when a plane flies on the air and a critical system in the plane fails, in such a condition pilots may be at the mercy of the plane, you can imagine what could happen to such a plane. I think it takes a miracle for such plane to land safely. Mechanical error may also occur as a result of flaw in the plane’s design. For instance, in 1955, a West African Airways flight to Nigeria crashed because of the flawed in wing design that led to metal fatigue crack and wing failure.
Mechanical failure may also occur due to the any undesirable outside circumstances that may affect or damage the plane e.g. lightning, birds etc. for instance, on 10th of October, 2001, in Off Valencia, Spain; an electrical power of an aircraft belonging to Flightline was lost due to a lightning strike.
Mechanical error accounts for about 22% of all aviation accidents. Source: Accident statistics.
Examples of mechanical errors responsible for plane crashes
In 1985 a Boeing 747, Japan Airlines flight 123, crashed into a mountain due to mechanical fault killing 520 people on board. The investigators found out that the rear pressure bulkhead of the plane ruptured because it was badly repaired and this led to total loss of control.
In addition, in 1997, in Russia an aircraft, belonging to Russian Air Force was unable to coordinate operation of the high pressure compressors, due to design flow.
On the 12th of August, 2001, Air Transat plane ran out of fuel due to improperly installed part that caused fuel to leak from the aircraft. Source: Accident statistics.
Weather Factor: Bad weather can be dangerous for a pilot to fly a plane, at such a time most planes are grounded at the air port. In other words, they are not allowed to fly when the weather conditions are bad, such weather conditions include heavy fogs, heavy winds, and violent storms, among others.
Lightening strike can be so dangerous; its flash alone can cause temporary blindness to the pilots, you can imagine how dangerous it would be if a pilot flying or piloting a plane fail to see in few minutes due to a lightning strike, most especially, when the plane is already at the high speed in the sky. This is one of the unwanted and undesirable natural challenges a pilot has to face in his choosing career. Therefore, making a pilot a ‘scapegoat’ for all plane crashes may be highly unfair.
Moreover, lightening strike has an evil potential so to say, to disable an aircraft in many ways. For example, in 1988 in Mulheim, Germany, NFD aircraft suffered a complete electrical failure when it was struck by lightning. Source: Accident statistics.
A bad weather indeed can cause a plane crash a good example is an Indonesian plane in 2010, with 103 passengers on board crashed into a nearby hillside due to bad weather conditions.
Sabotage Factor: A flight may turn out to be a sabotage flight, this may happen when a plane is hijacked by passenger(s) who manage to smuggle dangerous weapon(s) onto plane. For example on the 23rd of November, 1996, an air craft belonging to Ethiopian AL was hijacked and ran out of fuel and thereafter crashed in the ocean. Another good example was that of September 11th, 2001, in US. Saboteurs may also go to the extent of detonating bomb in aircraft this evil act was responsible for certain percentage of plane crashes in the world. For instance, in 1994, Alas Chiricamas aircraft crashed after a bomb exploded aboard. Sometimes, a plane can be shot down by the saboteurs. Source: Accident statistic.
Human Error: many other reasons for plane crashes can be classified as human errors. In other words, plane crashes are also traceable to costly mistakes of man. Such errors may come as a result of fuel starvation; air traffic control error; passenger error; etc. however, let us examine the following examples for each of these human errors for better understanding.
Errors due to fuel starvation
In Russian 1996, Krasnoyarskie AV crashed into a mountain after running out of fuel.
More so, in Pakistan 1998, Ariana Afghan AL plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a mountain after being diverted to their alternate due to bad weather.
In Italy, 2005, Tuninter aircraft also ran out of fuel due to the maintenance crew error, they wrongly, installed a fuel gauge for a ATR-42 on the ATR-72. Source: Accident statistics.
Errors due to air traffic control
In 1991 in Los Angeles, California, US, there was a plane crash between USAir aircraft and Skywest aircraft due to the Air Traffic Control error. It was discovered that the ATC cleared a plane to land while the runway was already occupied by another aircraft.
Also in 1996, there was a plane crash in Lagos State, Nigeria, due to the controller error who thought he had cleared to aircraft to the correct altitude but unfortunately, he didn’t.
There was another plane crash on the 26th 0f September, 1997, in Buah Nabar, Indonesia. It was revealed that the Air Traffic Control was erroneously, directing an Indonesia plane known as Garuda Indonesian AL, in a wrong direction into mountainous terrain. Source: Accident statistics.
Passenger’s Error/fire accidents
Accident Statistics also shows that some plane crashes were caused by fire incident.
For instance, CAAC plane crashed in Guangzhou, China in 1982. It was later discovered that a passenger cigarette caused a fire in the cabin which led to an oxygen tank exploding.
In addition, a fire broke out in the rear cargo hold of Aeroflot aircraft, and crashed in pervouralsk, Russia, in 1990.