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10 Worst Plane Crashes in the Last Decade

All are commercial planes carrying passengers.

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of aviation disasters that many may find disturbing.

On January 15, a Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara in Nepal crashed just before landing. All 72 passengers and crew on board were killed in the country’s deadliest crash in 30 years. According to statistics, flying is safer than driving. However, disasters such as these give travelers pause.  

If you’ve watched the movie Sully, you know that it’s not always the plane or the pilot. There can be many contributing factors including human error, structural problems, weather conditions, mechanics, or a combination. Airplane disasters are not regular occurrences thanks to constant improvements in technology made by the aviation industry. Each crash results in an investigation that opens the dialogue on how to lower the risks of future accidents. Nonetheless, it’s always a tremendous loss whenever someone loses their life in a plane crash. 

2014: Malaysia Airlines MH370

One of the most baffling mysteries in aviation is the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 in March 2014. The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board and fell off the radar less than an hour later. It is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean. 

Despite many years of searches—the most expensive in aviation history—the plane hasn’t been found yet. Several pieces have washed ashore on Indian Ocean islands and the coast of African countries. There are several conspiracy theories about the plane being hijacked or a suicidal pilot, but nothing has been confirmed after almost a decade. 

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2014: Malaysia Airlines MH17

On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by Russia-supported separatists in Ukraine. All 283 passengers and crew members were killed. 

Investigations found that a Russian-made missile was fired from the rebel-controlled part of Ukraine. The Netherlands has held Russia responsible for the tragedy and it has filed a case in the European Court of Human Rights to hold it accountable and receive compensation.

2014: AirAsia QZ8501

On December 28, this AirAsia flight took off from Surabaya in Indonesia and crashed into the Java Sea almost halfway to its destination Singapore. There were 162 people on board this Airbus A320-200 and no survivors. A faulty plane component and crew action were found to be the cause of the disaster.

2014: Air Algerie AH5017

There were 116 people traveling from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers in Algeria when contact with the plane was lost 50 minutes after take-off. It crashed over Mali near the Burkina Faso border and all passengers were announced dead. 

The pilot had asked to divert the plane due to poor visibility; weather conditions are believed to be the cause. The plane, a McDonnell Douglas 83, was owned by Spanish airline Swiftair.

2015: Germanwings 4U9525

An Airbus A380 had taken off from Barcelona in Spain for Düsseldorf in Germany. Lufthansa’s low-cost carrier Germanwings was ferrying 150 people on this two-hour flight. The plane reached a height of 38,000 feet and was cruising when captain Patrick Sondenheimer went to use the washroom. His co-pilot, 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, locked the cockpit, changed the altitude to 100 feet, and the plane started to descend. The aircraft dropped 31,000 feet in nine minutes and crashed into the French Alps. No one survived.

Evidence has made it clear that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz took control of the plane and crashed it deliberately. It was a suicide-murder and a premeditated killing; he was suffering from a psychotic mental disorder. The voice recording from the cockpit also revealed that the pilot tried to break down the cockpit door but to no avail. 

Since that incident, standard regulations have been updated to ensure a pilot is never left alone in the cockpit. Should a pilot need to use the bathroom, a flight attendant is required to join the remaining pilot up front.

2015: Kogalymavia KGL9268

An Airbus A321 was downed by the militant group ISIS in 2015 to retaliate against Russia’s strikes in Syria. The plane was operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia (also MetroJet) and it was flying from Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt to Saint Petersburg in Russia. Just 23 minutes into the flight, the plane crashed over the Sinai peninsula. Investigations later revealed that a bomb with 1 kilogram of explosives detonated mid-air and the plane broke up. All 224 people were killed.

2018: Lion Air JT610

Indonesian low-cost airline Lion Air was en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia, but within 13 minutes, the Boeing 737 Max nosedived into the Java Sea. All 189 people on the flight died. 

The reports looking into the crash have said that the jet had technical issues and it should have been grounded. The pilots attempted to gain control over the plane after the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, pushed the plane’s nose down due to false readings. The inexperience of the pilots with MCAS, the design of the plane, the lack of warning from other pilots who had previously handled the faulty system contributed to the fatality.

2018: Cubana de Aviación 972

There were 113 people on board a Boeing 737 that crashed shortly after taking off in Havana. Just one survived. This was the worst air disaster for the country in nearly three decades.

It was a domestic flight heading to Holguin on a plane that was leased to Cubana by a small Mexican company called Damojh. According to Cuba’s investigations, the cause of the crash was an error made by the crew over calculations of weight and balance, Reuters reported.

2019: Ethiopian Airlines 302

A few months after the Lion Air accident, another Boeing 737 Max crashed, killing all 157 people. Flight 302 bound to Nairobi, Kenya, went down just six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The problem was again the faulty automated MCAS system that caused the plane to nosedive despite attempts to gain control. It was after this tragedy that Boeing 737 Max was grounded for 20 months. 

The U.S.-based aviation company settled with the Department of Justice in 2021 and paid $2.5 billion to avoid criminal charges of fraud. However, the relatives of those who died objected to it. This January, Boeing pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud charges in a court in Texas after a judge ruled that the relatives should have been involved in the settlement. 

Related: Two Boeing 737 Max Planes Have Crashed—Do You Know If You’re Booked on One?

2020: Ukraine International Airlines 752

In January 2020, Iran shot down a Ukraine International Airlines carrying 176 people shortly after its take-off in Tehran. Two missiles were fired at the plane en route to Kiev, which Iran described as a disastrous mistake—it claims that it thought the civilian aircraft was a hostile target. This came at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. 

Ukraine and Canada (most passengers were heading to the country) have both blasted Iran and the reports of the error. An Ontario court ruled that the shooting down of the plane was an intentional act of terrorism and not an accident. Now Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the U.K. have moved together to hold Iran accountable and seek arbitration under the 1971 Montreal Convention, which seeks to prevent and punish crimes against civil aviation.

kt785 February 4, 2023

Whilst a lot of attention has been focused on the MH17 and MH370 incidents, Air Asia's QZ8501 is not much discussed. The crash was more explainable and not due to any extra ordinary or mysterious event. There was discussion of the known and recorded mechanical defects being ignored and the plane being forced to fly and the Indonesian authorities not having authorised the flight. But it has all gone quiet. No news of lawsuits, fines. 

fouDor February 3, 2023

Regarding MH17 - considering the war fomented by Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine and people dying on the ground already then in 2014, the prudent course of action would have been to not take the straightest route to KL, but skirt the obvious area of military actions and take a longer route which obviously would have cost more in fuel expenses. Malaysia Arlines was bleeding cash following the March disaster of MH370 so saving fuel was important.Unfortunately at that time the West has allowed Russia to do as it pleased on the Ukrainian territory; the conflikt not registering much on the international arena. These two causes: fuel saving and war on the ground were indirect but critical factors that lead to this catastrophe.

fouDor February 3, 2023

Sorry to see that Ontario court's judgement appears to be omitting such an important and valid element of investigation. Looks to be for political reasons. However, the victims families need a proper recompensation just the same.

fouDor February 3, 2023

Regarding UIA752-the civilian aircrafts taking off from Tehran had to use a particular window or time slot to leave. Unfortunately the take-off of this aircraft was delayed for some reason and missed the time slot. The airport controllers should have allerted the army that this aircraft would leave a bit later. The army was apparently unaware of this fact, so it was easy to get mistaken - with tragic consequences.