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Leading Causes of Air Crash Disasters

From January, 1997 to June, 2012, there were 496 air crash disasters reported resulting in the death of 12,799 individuals. The two most common categories of air crash disasters are caused human error and equipment failure. Sixty-Eight per cent (68%) of the crashes analyzed were attributable to human error; Eighteen per cent (18%) were attributable to equipment failure; and Fourteen per cent (14%) were unknown or unspecified causes with no known origin.

Of the causes attributable to "human error," there were three categories most common, namely:

1) Pilot error;

2) Errors by ground service; and

3) Terrorism.

Approximately, forty-seven per cent (47%) of crashes were attributable to pilot error; thirteen per cent (13%) were attributable to errors by the ground crew and eight per cent (8%) were attributable due to terrorist acts.

The most common acts or omissions attributable as pilot error were:

- Violations of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by the flight crew;

- Flight crew errors in bad weather conditions;

- Flight crew disorientation during takeoff from unfamiliar terrain;

- Insufficient flight qualification of pilots flying specific aircraft;

- Pilot fatigue and health problems;

- Lack of coordination of between the flight crew;

- Errors facilitated by contradictory instrument readings.

The most common acts or omissions attributable to the ground crew were:

- Incorrect operation, maintenance and repairs of the aircraft; and,

- Errors by air traffic contollers.

The three most common acts of terrorism were identified as follows:

- Planting an explosive device inside the aircraft;

- Hijacking and subsequent crash; and,

- Destruction of an aircraft by missile fire.

Additional causes of air crash disasters include:

- Poor visibility at night, in fog or heavy precipitation;

- Insufficient airport equipment levels or unfamiliar airports;

- Disrupted operation of navigation systems;

- Flying over mountains or hills;

- Violation of flight procedures.

The Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) is the most common or widespread of all air crashes caused by spatial disorientation of the pilot particularly in the horizontal plane.

The number of CFIT crashes could be reduced by the following factors:

- Having the crews abide by Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs);

- Equip all aircraft with terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS); and,

- Have the flight crews meticulously check the spatial orientation of their aircraft.

As in any accident, the overwhelming number of air crashes occur due to the choices and decisions of the flight crew in failure to follow or abide by standard operating procedures. Of those mistakes that occur by the ground crew, the overwhelming majority of the same also occur due to the choices and decisions by the same in not abiding by established procedures and operations.

If you or a loved one are injured or lose a loved one as a result of an air crash disaster, it is wise to consult with an experienced air crash disaster trial attorney. Boise Trial Attorney Alan Morton has extensive experience in handling aircrash disasters involving jet liners to small aircraft. You may call Mr. Morton to schedule a free initial consultation at 208.344.5555 or toll free at 888.716.8021 or completing the online contact form.


1 The statistics in this article were provided by the Aviation Safety Network, "Flight Safety" Consultative Analytical Agency which analyzed air crash data from air crashes between 1997 through 2012.

Alan Morton
Advocate for Justice/Trial Lawyer