High on History: Missing Malaysia Flight Conjures Ghosts of Crashes Past

The missing Malaysia Flight 370 is all over the 24/7 news cycle—maybe too much so given the seeming dearth of information. Still, we seem universally horrified/fascinated by the unfolding saga. As the vast majority of us have taken to the skies at one point or another this is the kind of nightmarish fodder that causes hot flashes, pounding chests and uncontrollable weeping when you start experiencing "some gentle turbulence" aboard a plane.

And while we’re consistently reassured with statistics about how rare plane crash deaths are—supposedly, odds are 11 million to 1 you’ll die this way—our psyches refuse to be quelled. It’s a sick feedback loop: We are terrified — but transfixed—by plane crashes, which leads the media to obsessing cover it, which further feeds our fixation . . .

Relatively recent crashes may still be fresh in the mind, like Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed on San Francisco's airport landing last summer, the near miss on the Hudson River, and of course, the horror of 9/11. But lest you forget some of the oldies, we’re going to plug right into that feedback loop with a list of four prominent crashes.

LANSA flight 508 (1971)
The Peruvian flight met disaster when a lightning strike disintegrated key parts of the plane, and chunks crashed into the Amazonian rainforest. Amazingly, one passenger, Julian Koepcke, survived both the initial destruction, and the crash (she was buckled into her seat through the whole ordeal, and had a fortuitous seat position). The crash broke her collarbone, but over the course of 10 days she walked miles along the rainforest floor until she found help. All other passengers perished.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (1972)
An Uruguayan Air Force plane was chartered to carry an amateur rugby team and its associates (I guess that’s how the Uruguayan military makes extra dough?). Inclement weather made it impossible for pilots to see whether they had cleared a mountain pass, and they misjudged, crashing the plane into the Andes Mountains. Thus began a long, harrowing journey to rescue. About a quarter of the passengers died on impact, others quickly died from cold and injury, and another 8 died in an avalanche. More than two months after the crash, 16 souls made it out alive, in part by eating the deceased.  

Korean Airlines Flight 007 (1983)
This one was a giant Cold War clusterf*ck.  Pilot error in navigation led a flight from Anchorage to Seoul to deviate slightly to the north, taking the plane into Soviet Union airspace. Bad timing, because the USSR just happened to have a Soviet missile test scheduled, which also prompted an American military plane to fly in the area. The Korean plane got confused as another military plane, and a Soviet pilot shot it down—just as it was passing back into international airspace. All 269 onboard died. The US and USSR pointed fingers at each other in the harrowing "he-said" "she-said" aftermath.

Kazakhstan Airlines Flight KZK 1907, and Saudi Arabian Airlines SVA 763 (1996)
This one’s a twofer: in-air plane collision. A radio operator error at Dehli’s (severely outdated) airport led the Kazakhstani plane to descend for landing before it should have, as the Saudi plane ascended. Originally, the Kazahstani plane was supposed to pass above, but things actually would have worked out, with the Kazakhstani plane now passing under the Saudi one. Except the radio operator realized his error late, leading the Kazakhstani plane to climb rapidly: pow. No survivors, 349 dead.

But hey, flying is still one of the safest methods of transportation . . .
(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)  

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