The inside story of the world's worst air crashes

This book was written by David Grayson and published in 1988. It relates the stories of twenty accidents and near-accidents involving aircraft that occurred in roughly twenty years prior to its publishing.

The accounts include, where possible, the verbatim transcripts of important conversation that took place in the cockpit of the aircraft involved, as well as the radio contact between the aircraft and the air traffic control towers in case of an accident at or near an airport. In spite of its often rather chilling subject, the book reads very easily and the accounts are very clear and give a good insight in the series of breakdowns, mistakes and oversights that lead to the actual accidents.

Although the largest and most devastating accidents of its period are covered in the book, it was written over thirteen years ago, and airline accidents have not stopped happening since. One would think that it would therefore be less interesting to read now, but this is not the case. Each and every account in the book retains its chilling truth and because the book focuses on the human element (in good and bad light) it doesn't really matter that the accidents happened so long ago. Many of the conclusions and insights reached at the end of these accounts would probably - and regrettably - be pertinent to modern day aircraft disasters, too.

The most important concept that I distilled from this book is the fact that the human factor plays such a big role in nearly all of these accidents, and probably do in most modern day accidents, both in positive and negative ways.

That negative human factor is probably most chillingly illustrated by the account of the Tenerife accident on March 27, 1977. The Captain of a KLM Boeing 747 is in a hurry, and causes the greatest aircraft disaster in history1 whereby 583 people meet their deaths in a collision between the KLM 747 and a Pan American 747.

In contrast is the account of the near-accident where the human factor enters in a positive light. On April 4, 1979, a Trans World Airlines Boeing 727 is put in a rather embarrassing predicament when, due probably to a mechanical problem with one of the control surfaces on its right wing, it starts to roll to the right and continues until at one point it finds itself completely inverted. The aircraft continues to roll and as it embarks on a second barrel roll it adds another dimension to the fun by lowering the nose until it is diving straight down to earth. This with a complement of 89 persons on board, mind you. Through a number of daring and innovative actions taken by the pilot, he manages to regain control of the aircraft before it plummets into the ground with just nine seconds to spare. One of the facts to emerge from the subsequent investigation was that the pilot was an experienced aerobatic pilot and the authorities can't help but factor this into the miraculous recovery of the aircraft.


Apart from the above accounts, the book also relates, among others, the stories behind the following accidents:

This book was first published a while ago and my recent searches to see if I could find a copy on only brought up the possibility to search for it in the used book section. The search also brought up a rather less positive 'wu' on this book.
I've been on the lookout for a sequel of sorts, covering more recent air disasters, but I haven't been able to find anything yet.

The book itself

1 At that time and for a long time since then

August 24, 2001

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