Car accidents happen everyday, thus are quite common. But what about the most reliable means of transport – airplanes? They could crash as well, but those accidents don‘t happen as often. Let me tell you about the worst disaster in aviation history.
27th of March, 1977 – a day to remember. The day started off normally, people woke up, getting ready for their flight. One of the Canary Islands, Tenerife, had two airports for commercial flights. The main airports are Gran Canaria Airport and Los Rodeos, the second one was not often used.
On that day, a terrorist incident was reported at Gran Canaria, terrorist placed a bomb inside. This happened around 13:15 PM. The flights had to be redirected to the other airport. Los Rodeos is a very small airport and not yet able to manage all the flights, many of them had delays, in some cases people had to wait more than seven hours. Nowadays, this airport is not used for normal common flights, which means that it is almost impossible to land there. On 27th of March, it was a foggy and rainy day, so the visibility was poor. These factors had serious consequences.
Flights were not allowed to land at Gran Canaria, so their plans was changed, they’ve received instructions to land at Los Rodeos. Flight Pan Am 1736 and KLM 4805 were in a rush, as soon as they add fuel, they will start their take off as soon as possible. Pan Am and its route from Los Angeles to Gran Canaria had a step over in New York. Soon after, it landed at Los Rodeos, they had accquired fuel and asked ATC for permission to land at Gran Canaria after the situation at the intended accident is cleared up. It was Sunday and there were only two traffic controllers at the tower, and because nobody expected what will happen, simply said, the Los Rodeos Airport was overloaded.
Some aircrafts had to wait on the runway, travelers on KLM had the possibility to exit the plane, but after 20 minutes they were called back to continue their flight to Gran Canaria. While, Pan Am passengers could not exit the aircraft. Pilots on KLM were running out of time, because if they took longer, they won’t be able to continue flying according to their flight plan. Hence, they will have to wait for another pilot to get them to their destination. The captain of KLM was in charge, he knew that if they start take off before 18:00, they could make it to Amsterodam in time (according to law). Moreover, the plane was fueled to save time.
KLM flight was quite fast going on runway. At the other “end” Pan Am had to slow down in the middle of runway. The cabin crew knew they have to leave runway and get to the taxiway. Pan Am captain asked ATC to get the right exit to leave, they responded – third. As mentioned above, visibility was poor, and the pilots could barely see. Pan Am was very slow and moving to find the right exit. After finding the runway, they eventually realised that they’ve made a mistake and it was too late. The runway they intended to taxi to needed a very sharp turn and the plane couldn’t turn onto it. It was decided they’d go on for the next 200m to exit C4, with angle 45 degrees, according to the map.
The KLM flight was still waiting at the end of the runway and got ready for take off. ATC could not see anything, they weren’t aware that both jumbos were opposite of each other. They did not have information about PanAm, so they could not allow KLM to take off. Captain of KLM was getting more nervous as time passed by, so he asked ATC for permission. Communication between the cockpit and ATC was not clear enough, therefore, the captain started getting ready for take off. The Engineer inside KLM warned the captain, that PanAm may still be on the runway. unfortunately, both pilots thought that PanAm was surely gone.
At this moment, they were about 1000m from each other, PanAm found C4 and started to turn the aircraft to get there, but suddenly spotted KLM coming straight ahead. KLM tried to maximize the speed and take off early to avoid a crash. It wasn’t successful, KLM caused a 22m long tail-strike and collided with Pan Am.
They all knew that they couldn’t control the situation. What were the consequences? 583 people sadly passed away. This is why it became the deadliest disaster in aviation history.
Cover photo: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/La6mNWbOXMc/hqdefault.jpg