The collision of a pair of Boeing 747 jumbo jets on the runway back in 1977 is probably something with which many of us “more experienced” readers are quite familiar. The disaster (which was discussed in the early days of Today’s History Lesson) took place at a rather small airport on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and resulted in the largest loss of life caused by aircraft (excepting the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001).
That was not, however, the only fatal accident at Tenerife. Little more than three years later, tragedy struck again. This time, it didn’t involve runways or Boeing 747′s. On April 25, 1980, Dan-Air Flight 1008 was approaching Tenerife to land, having taken off from England. The Boeing 727, carrying 146 passengers and crew, entered a holding pattern, awaiting its turn to land.
But the pilot, descending to 5,000′ and in heavy clouds, turned into an area of high terrain and away from the proper beacon…an area were 14,500′ was considered the minimum safe altitude. Suddenly the 727′s ground warning indicators began sounding, pointing out a mountain that cloud-obscured eyes couldn’t see. The pilots, realizing their peril, applied full power and turned hard to the right, but it was too late. The jetliner crashed into the mountain, instantly killing all on board.
In the wake of these accidents, Tenerife North Airport was supplemented by Tenerife South, built in an area less susceptible to low cloud and, even more dangerous, thick fog. It’s my understanding that Tenerife South handles most of the flights in and out of the islands (which generate the most traffic), while Tenerife North mostly deals with inter-island traffic and shorter flights to Spain, Western Europe, and the United States.
And since that tragic day in April 30 years ago, no lives have been lost at either airport.