Episode Information

NOVA: The Deadliest Plane Crash
Aired:
07/13/2010
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In this episode:

The Deadliest Accident in Aviation History & Its Implications for Air Travel Safety Today

 


NOVA

The Deadliest Plane Crash

Tuesday, 7/13/2010 at 8:00 p.m. on CPTV

On March 27, 1977, on the island of Tenerife, two fully loaded 747 jumbo jets collided on a fog-blanketed runway, claiming the lives of 583 people in what is still the deadliest crash in aviation history. Now, almost 30 years later, near-misses on the ground are the leading cause of aviation accidents, raising the question of what can be done to improve runway safety. Featuring moving interviews with the few survivors of the disaster and with top accident investigators, NOVA examines the fateful confluence of events that led to the Tenerife tragedy and its continuing relevance for air travel today in "The Deadliest Plane Crash."

Three decades ago, the facts of the accident were shocking and inexplicable. In thick fog, a KLM 747 began an unauthorized takeoff, slamming into a Pan Am 747 that was taxiing on the same runway. The best and the brightest pilots, including KLM's senior captain and head of safety, were at the helm. How could such an accident possibly occur?

"The Deadliest Plane Crash" looks back at the crucial four hours before the disaster, when an improbable chain of coincidences, bad luck and misjudgments snowballed into tragedy. The situation sounds eerily current. It all began with a terrorist bomb threat to the airport on Gran Canaria Island, diverting air traffic to Tenerife. The small Tenerife airport was soon overcrowded, even as its control tower was understaffed. Thick fog rolled in and destroyed visibility as the KLM plane loaded up a full tank of fuel. A series of unclear communications and time pressure on the Dutch crew ultimately contributed to the KLM captain's fatal error - one that violated the fundamental rules of aviation and baffled expert investigators for decades afterwards.

NOVA's film reassesses the evidence and conclusions of the official accident investigations by the Spanish and Dutch authorities. It features gripping recollections from Pan Am co-pilot Robert Bragg, flight attendant Joan Jackson and passengers who somehow fought their way out of the blazing, disintegrating Pan Am 747. Learn more...


 
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