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Devastating final moments of Boeing 747s that smashed into each other mid-takeoff in worst ever plane crash killing 583


INSIDE the deadliest plane crash in the history of aviation that saw 583 people killed after two Boeings smashed into each other mid-take off.

A chain of tragic coincidences and human errors marked the Tenerife Airport Disaster, which took place 47 years ago today.

Passengers were forced to leap from two-storey building heights to escape


Passengers were forced to leap from two-storey building heights to escapeCredit: YouTube
Many people were left with broken bones and head wounds from jumping off the plane


Many people were left with broken bones and head wounds from jumping off the planeCredit: YouTube
Picture of the two aircraft just moments before the crash


Picture of the two aircraft just moments before the crashCredit: HistoryNet Archives
One of the survivors of the air disaster


One of the survivors of the air disasterCredit: Getty – Contributor

On March 27, 1977, KLM flight 4805 carrying 248 passengers was preparing to take off from Los Rodeos Airport.

Another jumbo liner Pan Am Flight 1736 with 396 people on board was taxiing on the same runway as the KLM flight.

Due to bad weather, the pilots of the two Boeing 747s could not see anything on the tarmac – and were forced to rely solely on the Air traffic control system for guidance.

Unable to differentiate the taxiways in the low visibility, the Pan Am flight- which was assigned a different turnoff – missed the exit and continued moving towards the KLM.

The error was only spotted when the KLM flight was just 2,000ft away from the Pam Am plane on the tarmac – but it was already too late.

Despite both aircraft attempting to avoid each other, with the Pan Am plane veering sharply onto the grass and the KLM Boeing 747 pulling up, they were unable to avoid the collision.

The KLM aircraft’s undercarriage and engines hit the top of the Pan Am plane at speed, resulting in a fatal crash.

Pan Am co-captain Robert Bragg, who died in 2017, told BBC’s Witness in 2016: “When he hit us, it was a very soft boom.

“I then looked up for the fire control handles and that’s when I noticed the top of the aeroplane was gone.”

The catastrophic collision killed 583 people who were onboard both airliners, making it the worst aeroplane crash at the time.

Almost five decades later, the Tenerife Airport Disaster continues to be the deadliest in aviation history.

Robert was one of the only 61 passengers of the Pan AM flight who managed to survive the fatal plane crash.

He explained: “I jumped to the ground, 40 feet from the cockpit and thanked the lord I landed on the grass.

“One poor lady jumped first and everyone else jumped on her, broke her back and both legs and both arms.”

After five minutes, the fuel tank blew up, sending flames “250 feet in the air,” as the aircraft fell apart.

Passengers Warren Hopkins and his wife Caroline were on the Pan Am flight, and told their story to Jon Ziomek for his new book Collision on Tenerife: The How and Why of the World’s Worst Aviation Disaster.

Despite bleeding from his head, Warren jumped from the plane, severing two tendons in his foot, while Caroline also jumped and broke the bones in her shoulder.

Another passenger, Joani Feathers, revealed how she saw a Pan Am crew member decapitated by the explosion while trying to escape.

What makes the disaster particularly unforgettable is the chain of coincidences coupled with significant human errors that resulted in the horror event.

None of the KLM passengers or crew survived the catastrophic collision.

Tragic coincidences

Ironically, neither of the Boeing aircraft was supposed to be in Tenerife, let alone be present on the same runaway.

On a Sunday morning, a terrorist bomb exploded in Grand Canary’s Las Palmas airport terminal, causing injuries and panic.

A telephone threat to the airport referred to a second bomb, forcing the airport to shut down.

And some dozen incoming aircraft, including the Pan Am and KLM 747s, were sent to nearby Tenerife to wait until Las Palmas officials were given a green signal to reopen.

With a large number of aircraft landing, the entrance to the main runway was blocked, which meant that planes were forced to taxi on the runway itself, before making a 180-degree turn to take off.

It was also a foggy day, meaning a much lower visibility for pilots.

However, what was also factored in the final incident report were the key phrases used by pilots and air traffic control which caused confusion and misunderstanding.

The incident report filed in 1977 explained that there was a breakdown in communication due to the ambiguous use of the words “okay” and “take off”, as well as the different accents and languages involved.

The report gives an example of the problem this caused during the incident: “The controller then said, “Okay (pause) stand by for takeoff, I will call you.”

“On the KLM CVR, the portion of this transmission following the word ‘okay’ is overlayed by a high-pitched squeal, and the tone of the controller’s voice is somewhat distorted, though understandable.”

The report said: “We believe that nothing after the word ‘okay’ passed the filters of the Dutch crew, thus they believed the controller’s transmission approved their announced action in taking off.”

People inspecting the catastrophe in Tenerife


People inspecting the catastrophe in TenerifeCredit: Getty
The burnt-out wreckage of Pan Am 1736 litters the Los Rodeos runway


The burnt-out wreckage of Pan Am 1736 litters the Los Rodeos runwayCredit: AFP – Getty
A memorial to the victims of the disaster


A memorial to the victims of the disasterCredit: AFP – Getty

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