The data infographic above summarizes the air disasters that occurred in August from 1910s to the present. The listed incidents include passenger planes with a seating capacity of 10 or more passengers.
Airliners are generally one of the safest transports. The US National Security Council revealed that the odds of death for passenger on an airplane were “too few deaths in 2018 to calculate odds.” On the other hand, the odds of death for motor-vehicle crash were 1 in 106 in the same year.
Airliners are safe, thanks to development of technology and, most importantly, because human beings always learn from the past experiences. The following are three outstanding aviation disasters that have left a lasting legacy to the industry this month.
Caproni Ca. 48 – One of the Earliest Airliner Accidents
Giovanni Battista Caproni was an Italian aeronautical engineer, civil engineer, electrical engineer, and aircraft designer. His career as an aircraft engineer started off as an engine constructor. He founded his own company and started designing and building planes at his own airport. Caproni became a famous designer and manufacturer of bombers during WWI. After the war, he became a proponent of the development of passenger aircrafts. He developed a variant of the popular bombers, the Ca.4, into a passenger plane, the Ca.48 airliner.
On 2 August 1919, a Ca.48 crashed near Verona, Italy, killing all the passengers on board, reportedly 14, 15 or 17 people. This was one of the earliest airliner accidents and the deadliest at the time, in aviation history. Despite the criticism, he intended building a aircraft with a capacity of hundred and more passengers. In later years, he further developed a large nine-wing flying boat, which was never successful.
I came to know about Caproni by watching a Japanese movie, “the Wind Rises.” The movie is about a fictionalized biopic of a Japanese aircraft designer at the time of WWII. Caproni appears in the movie as an inspirational aircraft designer who has an ambition to create a magnificent large airliner for joy to people.
Japan Airlines Flight 123 – the Deadliest Air Disaster in History
During the years I spent in Japan, news and documentaries about this tragedy would be on TV around August. The deadliest single-aircraft accident in aviation history fell on 12th August 1985, in Japan. The Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain 32 minutes after the take-off, killing 520 lives. Due to Japan’s summer holidays, the flight was full with 524 people. Reportedly, there were more survivors initially but delay in rescue operation caused the increase in fatalities. All of the four survivors, all female, were in the rear of the cabin. According to the investigation, the aircraft had a tail strike incident in 1978 which damaged its bulkhead. The subsequent repair did not follow Boeing’s approved method. After completing 12,318 flights from the faulty repair to the day, the bulkhead cracked to fall apart. Then the aircraft lost its control.
In 2006, JAL opened the Safety Promotion Centre where wreckage from the aft fuselage, the cockpit voice recorder, newspaper reports of the accident, and photographs of the crash site are displayed. The primary purpose is to promote safety awareness for JAL employees. It is also open to the public.
British Airtours Flight 28M – A defining Moment
On 22 August 1985, 10 days after the JL 123 incident, British Airtours Flight 28M was caught by fire just before take-off at Manchester Airport, England. Although crews made the immediate evacuation efforts after the aircraft came to full stop, 55 people lost their lives mostly because of toxic smoke inhalation. The investigation also found that the design fault of the emergency slide system caused the inefficiency in evacuation, hence the increased fatalities.
This incident brought about industry-wide changes in terms of fire safety and evacuation procedures. The industry started using fire-resistant interior materials, changed the seating layout near emergency exits, and equipped the cabin with more fire extinguishers. The evacuation rules have become clearer for crews.
My wife was a cabin crew for multiple airlines. She told me that the firefighting training for crews is quite intense, typically carried out in a separate firefighting training centre. Trainees actually handle the real fire by using the actual smoke hoods and fire extinguishers. If you fail to extinguish the fire within a certain time, you will be out of the training. Crews must remember the locations of in-flight fire extinguishers. There are both water and halon extinguishers on board so that crews would use the appropriate extinguishers depending on the source of fire.
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If you like this data infographic, it may also be worth checking out the historical timeline of Japanese bullet train that puts together history and the challenges that engineering marvel went through.