TRAGEDY AT TENERIFE
With the suspense over Malaysian Air Flight 370 dominating the news since it went missing on March 8th, with 239 passengers and crew it is the 17th worst air disaster in history and the worst this decade. On this day in 1977, however, the worst air disaster ever occurred when a KLM 747 collided with a Pan Am 747 after the captain of the KLM plane started his takeoff roll without clearance.killing 583 passengers and crew and injuring another 61.
As a consequence of the accident, sweeping changes were made to international airline regulations and to aircraft. Aviation authorities around the world introduced requirements for standard phrases and a greater emphasis on English as a common working language.
For example, ICAO calls for the phrase “line up and wait” as an instruction to an aircraft moving into position but not cleared for takeoff. Also several national air safety boards began penalizing pilots for disobeying air traffic controllers’ orders. Air traffic instruction should not be acknowledged solely with a colloquial phrase such as “OK” or even “Roger” (which simply means the last transmission was received, but with a readback of the key parts of the instruction, to show mutual understanding.
Additionally, the phrase “takeoff” is spoken only when the actual takeoff clearance is given. Up until that point, both aircrew and controllers should use the phrase “departure” in its place (e.g. “ready for departure”). Cockpit procedures were also changed. Hierarchical relations among crew members were played down. More emphasis was placed on team decision-making by mutual agreement, part of what has become known in the industry as Crew Resource Management.
In 1978 a second airport was inaugurated on the island: the new Tenerife South Airport (TFS). This airport now serves the majority of international tourist flights. Los Rodeos, renamed to Tenerife North Airport (TFN), was then used only for domestic and inter-island flights, but in 2002 a new terminal was opened and it carries international traffic once again, including budget airlines. The Spanish authorities installed a ground radar at Tenerife North following the accident.
Since the Tenerife tragedy, the worst accidents by decade have been:
JAL #123: Tokyo to Osaka (1985): 520 Fatalities
Crashed into Mount Osatakau
Saudi Arabian Air #763 / Air Kazakhstan #1907 (1996): 348 Fatalities
Saudia Boeing 747 and a Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76 collided over the town of Charkhi Dadri, outside New Dehli, India, killing 349.
AA #587 New York to Santa Domingo (2001): 260 Fatalities
Crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens shortly after takeoff.