passenger jet flying through clouds in front of sun
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
May 3, 2024 ·  3 min read

5 of The Worst Mistakes Made by Crew Before a Crash

Planes are designed with the utmost diligence, ensuring safety for passengers. However, engineers and mechanics can’t account for some things. Here are five instances in which pilot error endangered the lives of passengers and flight staff.

1. Preventable Pilot Error

Aeroflot plane with a British airways plane, tarmac, and sky in the background.
Image Credit: Getty

On March 23, 1994, a pilot error led to the deaths of 75 passengers as well as every flight attendant onboard. The flight was traveling from Moscow to Hong Kong when it crashed into a mountain range in Siberia. Cockpit recordings were investigated following the crash and reflected some unfortunate information regarding pilot error. The co-pilot, Yaroslav Kudrinsky, had allowed his 12 and 15-year-old children to play with the controls, presuming autopilot mode had disabled them. However, the oldest had held the control panel for 30 seconds, re-engaging the manual mode. Sadly, when the pilots realized what had happened it was too late to fix the mistake.

2. Light-Bulb Malfunction

Pilot hand and airplane cockpit, green and tan land in the background.
Photo Credit: Fietzfotos | Pixabay

Around 20 years before the crash in 1994, another deadly plane crash took place, this time leaving 75 survivors. On December 29th, 1972, an Eastern Airlines Tristar jet crashed into the Everglades. The captain and 100 other passengers and crew perished. The event was again due to a pilot error, and perhaps a maintenance error as well. The pilot and co-pilot were distracted by a burnt-out landing gear indicator when the pilot accidentally deactivated the autopilot mode. Like the crash in 1994, the pilots didn’t catch the mistake early enough to prevent the rapid loss of altitude.

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3. Pilot Error Results in Most Fatalities

Black and white photo of plane remnants scattered in a field.
Image Credit: AFP / Getty

The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred five years later, in 1977. Again, due to pilot error. Oddly, like the 1994 crash, this event also occurred in March. The crash occurred between two Boeing 747s at Tenerife Airport in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people. A misunderstanding among pilots and Air Traffic Control led to one plane attempting to take off, while the other was still on the runway. Sadly, it was so foggy on the ground that neither pilot could see the other plane, causing the two jumbo jets to collide. Everyone aboard one plane died. Meanwhile, the other plane had only 61 survivors, 54 passengers and seven crew members.

4. Ignored Problems

Red airplane with snowy mountain in the background.
Image Credit: Pexels | Pixabay

Oddly, another five years later, another deadly crash took place, this time killing passengers and people on the ground. On January 13, 1982, a flight from Washington, D.C., to Fort Lauderdale crashed into the Potomac River, killing 74 people on board and four bystanders. Sadly, several issues should have prevented the flight from taking off, including failure to engage the de-icing system and a problem with the power. Nonetheless, the flight took off, crashing only 30 seconds later.

5. Engine and Pilot Error

Plane crash in river, the result of a pilot error. Safety and rescue workers scattered among the remains.
Image Credit: Getty

Although a few crashes happened in between, another example of a pilot error resulting in a deadly plane crash transpired much more recently. On February 4, 2015, a flight from Taipei, Taiwan, crashed only moments after taking off. The plane flew into a highway bridge before plunging into the Keelung River. When one engine lost power, the pilot mistakenly switched off the working engine. The pilot and co-pilot were both killed along with 43 of 58 passengers. Following the crash, the cockpit recordings were investigated, and an admission of pilot error was among the last words ever spoken by the crew. “Wow, pulled back the wrong side throttle,” can be heard from the pilot in the final seconds of his life.  

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  1. Tenerife. Britannica.
  2. Praying, turning the engine off by accident and letting KIDS play with the controls: The worst blunders made by pilots before a crash revealed.” Daily Mail. Annabel Fenwick Elliott. Novermber 21, 2016.