Tenerife Airport Disaster

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Synopsis

The world's deadliest aviation disaster happened on 27 March 1977 when two Boeing 747 aircraft (PAN AM Flight 1736 and KLM 4805) collided with each other on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport, Tenerife. All passengers onboard the KLM aircraft perished, while 61 passengers from PAN AM aircraft survived albeit various degree of injuries. As a result of both pilot and ATC error, there were a total of 583 fatalities making the incident the worst disaster in aviation history.

Introduction

A bomb explosion at Gran Canaria Airport disrupted routine operations and caused many aircraft to divert to Tenerife to land. Unfortunately, the capaciy of Tenerife airport was smaller and the weather conditions present at the airport reduced visibility that further complicated matters where there was no sufficient space to accommodate to the sudden influx of diverted aircraft. Aircraft were parked on taxiways in the dense fog which hampered visibiity, even for the air traffic controllers who were essentially blind as the airport was not equipped with ground radar. Due to miscommunication over the radio and pilot error, the Captain of the KLM aircraft commenced its take off without clearance from air traffic control only to realise that the PAN AM aircraft was still on the runway.

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