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5 Most Common Causes of Plane Crashes

Posted on: April 23rd, 2013 by Romanucci & Blandin

Are you afraid of plane crashes? Most people are, and it’s not so hard to understand why. The Transportation Security Administration screens over 1.8 million passengers every day, and each traveler places his or her trust in that system: it simply has to work. What’s more, flying carries inherent, built-in risks. Planes are machines, and machines sometimes malfunction. Flight attendants and pilots may even fly several times per week, and although the airlines take as many precautions as possible, at these speeds and altitudes, mistakes can have serious consequences. Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news can tell you that plane accidents do sometimes happen.

But before you panic or give in to your fear of flying, it’s best to try to gain a little perspective. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in an aviation accident in the U.S. (over a lifetime) are about 1 in 7,178, while the odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 98. According to a report by OAG Aviation and PlaneCrashInfo.com, the odds of being killed during a single airline flight on one of the top 78 major world airlines is one in 4.7 million. In other words, the odds are in your favor.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Every year, some flyers are injured or killed. The attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin know how aircraft accidents can affect victims and their families, because they’ve been representing crash victims for decades. But most people remain in the dark when it comes to understanding the hazards of flying, as well as the most common causes of plane crashes. If you’ve ever wondered why plane accidents happen, here are the top five reasons.

The Most Common Reasons for Plane Accidents

1. Pilot Error. Half of all plane crashes are caused by pilot error. That may seem like a very high statistic, but it makes perfect sense when you think about everything that a pilot must do. Pilots must navigate through dangerous weather, respond to mechanical issues and execute a safe takeoff and landing. Some plane accidents are caused when pilots misread equipment, misjudge weather conditions or fail to recognize mechanical errors until it’s too late.

Sometimes too, plane crashes happen when pilots become incapacitated during critical points of a flight. In 2005, a Helios Airways flight to Greece crashed because the flight cabin depressurized, incapacitating the entire flight crew. In 1976, a South African AW flight crashed when the captain suffered a heart attack and his first officer couldn’t control the plane in time. Some pilot errors can even be the result of mental problems. A flight to Tokyo crashed in 1987 because a pilot who was known to have serious psychological problems put the plane’s engines into reverse mid-flight.

2. Mechanical Error. The second most common cause of plane crashes is mechanical error, which accounts for about 22% of all aviation accidents. Mechanical error differs from pilot error, because when a critical system fails, the pilot may be at the mercy of the plane. Some mechanical errors occur because of a flaw in the plane’s design. For example, in 1974 a Turkish Airlines flight to France crashed because of a design flaw in the latch of the cargo door. A West African Airways flight to Nigeria crashed in 1955 because a flawed wing design led to metal fatigue cracks and wing failure.

Sometimes, mechanical failure occurs when outside circumstances damage the plane. The causes of these failures can be pretty bizarre. For example, in 1962 a United Airlines flight crashed because it was struck by a single swan that tore off the plane’s left horizontal stabilizer. Birds have caused at least seven plane crashes to date.

3. Weather. Around 12% of all plane crashes are caused by weather conditions. Although flights are often grounded when weather conditions are deemed hazardous, storms, heavy winds and even fog can sneak up on pilots and air traffic controllers. Lightning strikes can be especially dangerous. When lightning hits a plane, it can disable it in many ways. Aviation accidents have happened because lightning caused electrical failure, because it ignited fuel tanks and pipes, and even because the flash itself caused temporary blindness.

But even milder weather conditions can cause plane crashes. During a flight to Lebanon in 1977, the pilot encountered a thick fog as he prepared to land. Circling back, he retried the landing several more times before fuel ran out and the plane could no longer stay aloft. In 2010, an Indonesian plane carrying 103 passengers crashed when inclement weather conditions caused the pilot to overshoot the runway. The plane skidded into a pool of water at the end of the runway and crashed into a nearby hillside. The impact of the crash caused the jet to break in half.

4. Sabotage. Plane crashes that are caused by sabotage draw the most media attention, but they only account for about 9% of total plane crashes. Some sabotaged flights crash because of hijackers, and of course the most notable examples are the three flights that were hijacked on September 11th. But despite increasingly strict TSA regulations, some passengers still manage to smuggle bombs or firearms onto planes. When they’re successful, a single passenger can bring down a jet, killing hundreds of people.

Although terrorists, extremists or militia groups are usually responsible for attacks like these, that’s not always the case. Mentally ill passengers have been known to attack both pilots and passengers, and some have even detonated bombs in an attempt to commit suicide while in flight.

5. Other Human Error. The bulk of the remaining plane crashes, about 7%, are caused by other kinds of human errors. Some plane crashes are inadvertently caused by air traffic controllers. Air traffic control mistakes have caused planes to crash into mountains, to land on occupied runways and even to collide in midair. When a plane is loaded, fueled or maintained incorrectly, that’s human error too.

One of the more common fatal mistakes caused by humans is something called “fuel starvation” – but this isn’t always the result of an improperly filled fuel tank. A Coastal Airlines flight in 1948 crashed because the fuel valves were positioned incorrectly, causing both engines to pull fuel from a single tank. An Air Mali flight crashed in 1974 when a diversion and navigation error caused it to circle the wrong city until it ran out of fuel.

Finding Justice for Victims of Plane Crashes

As you can see, the causes of plane crashes are extremely varied. Plane accidents can be caused from everything from terrorists to an errant bird, and since aviation accidents happen for so many different reasons, finding justice for victims is often complicated. The process really depends on the factors involved, and that’s why it’s so important to seek legal counsel from attorneys who have years of solid experience in aviation litigation.

The attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin have been representing victims of plane crashes for decades. They know that you have to live with the consequences of your accident every day, and that’s what motivates them to fight for justice. If you’ve been victimized by an airline accident, contact the Chicago lawyers of Romanucci & Blandin. They’ll put their experience to work for you.

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