Deadliest commercial airline crashes in history

Story highlights

Several commercial jet crashes have resulted in the deaths of over 200 people

Some of these are terrorist-related, but others are tied to mechanical or pilot errors

The deadliest crash involving a single aircraft -- with 520 killed -- was in 1985 in Japan

CNN  — 

The plight of 239 souls aboard Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH37 remained unresolved Saturday, after the aircraft went missing somewhere between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Beijing, China. Whatever happened, the ordeal raises sad memories of horrific airplane crashes that have cost thousands of lives in recent decades.

Some of the worst such incidents – like four crashes in frightening succession into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001; the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland; and a 1977 crash involving the apparent hijacking of a Malaysian Airlines jet that left 100 dead – involved terrorist activity.

But there are many others that did not, with mechanical problems, pilot error or other reasons blamed for loss of life.

Below are some examples of the latter: crashes that left at least 200 people dead in each incident.

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March 3, 1974: 346 people are killed when a Turkish Airlines DC-10 experiences a sudden decompression shortly after takeoff from Paris and slams into a park in Ermeonville, France.

March 27, 1977: A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 beginning its takeoff crashed into Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 then still on the runway at the Los Rodeos Airport at Tenerife in the Canary Islands. A total of 574 people, aboard both planes, died.

May 25, 1979: An engine on the left wing of an American Airlines DC-10 falls off as it’s trying to take off from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, setting off chaos that results in 271 deaths on board and two others on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration later faults American Airlines maintenance techniques for the crash for Flight 191.

November 28, 1979: Some 275 people died when their Air New Zealand plane, a DC-10, hits Mt. Erebus on Antarctica – a crash that it believed to stem from navigational error.

August 12, 1985: The deadliest-ever commercial air crash involving a single plane occurred nearly 30 years ago in the mountains of central Japan. A total of 520 people were killed when Japan Airlines Flight 123 – a Boeing 747 – crashed not long after takeoff from Tokyo. Four people miraculously survived.

May 26, 1991: Twelve minutes after takeoff, Lauda Air’s Flight 004 stalls in midair. The Boeing 767 ultimately crashes some 70 miles northwest of Bangkok, Thailand, killing all 223 passengers and crew.

July 11, 1991: The landing gear of a Nigeria Airways DC-8 catches fire shortly after takeoff Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t make it back to the airport, crashing nose-down less than 10,000 feet short of the runway and killing all 261 people aboard.

April 26, 1994: The pilot of a China Airlines’ Flight 140 alerts the control tower at Japan’s Nagoya Airport of his intention not to land and try another approach. But something goes wrong and, a short time later, the Airbus A300 crashes leading to 264 fatalities – though a few passengers do survive.

July 17, 1996: TWA Flight 800 explodes in mid-air shortly after takeoff from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, then falls into pieces off the coast of Long Island. All 230 aboard die. The National Transportation Safety Board later blames the blast on an electrical short circuit that found its way into the center wing fuel tank.

November 12, 1996: A Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747 and a Kazakhstan Airlines II-76 collide over the airport in New Delhi, India, killing 349 people on both airplanes.

August 6, 1997: Flight 801 that had left Seoul, South Korea, was near its final destination in Guam when it smacked into a jungle and hit the ground. The plane, a Boeing 747, was destroyed and 228 people were killed, though there were 26 survivors.

September 26, 1997: Garuda Indonesia airlines’ Flight 152 crashes in Buah Nabar, Indonesia, killing 234 people. A National Transportation Safety Board report issued three years later found the crash’s most likely cause was an electrical short circuit in the Airbus A300 that ignited vapors in the fuel tank.

February 16, 1998: Flying through rain and fog, the crew of China Airlines’ Flight 676 from Indonesia to Taiwan requests another landing approach at Taipei International Airport. In the process of turning around, the aircraft crashes into a neighborhood, killing all 196 aboard and another seven on the ground.

September 2, 1998: A Swissair jetliner that had departed New York’s Kennedy airport on its way to Geneva, Switzerland, goes down off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada; none of the 229 people aboard Flight 111 make it. Investigators believe that the MD-11 lost all electrical power immediately before the crash.

November 12, 2001: A few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attack, American Airlines’ Flight 587 stirs fears and panic when it plummets into Belle Harbor, Queens. Despite the initial concerns, the National Transportation Safety Board found no evidence of sabotage. Still the Airbus A300 crash had a huge toll – the highest, in fact, for any single airliner crash in U.S. history – with all 260 dead on the plane killed plus five more innocents on the ground.

May 25, 2002: Twenty minutes after takeoff, China Airlines’ Flight 611 plummets into the Taiwan Strait – resulting in 225 fatalities. The crash is later attributed to metal fatigue and cracks throughout the Boeing 747.

June 1, 2009: Air France Flight 447 is en route from Rio de Janiero to Paris when it and its 228 passengers and crew go missing somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not until five days later that the first bodies are found about 600 miles off the northern coast of Brazil. Two years later, French authorities blame the crash on equipment malfunction.

CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.