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Posts Tagged ‘Canary Islands’

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.

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It was March 27, 1970 when the Concorde made its first supersonic flight, but airplanes not yet off the ground are the subject of Today’s History Lesson and are what dominated the news for months following this date in 1977.  The Canary Islands are famous for tourism and vacation getaways, but the island of Tenerife is also known for the deadliest airline disaster not connected with September 11, 2001.

In the mid-afternoon hours, two Boeing 747’s collided on the runway, killing nearly 600 passengers and crew.  The two jumbo jets started at opposite ends of the airport’s only runway, one taxiing, one taking off.  They met near the middle and collided just as the one jet was lifting off.  I was eight years old at the time, but I still remember it to some degree.  I vividly recall the issue of “Time” magazine with the big “How Safe?” cover sitting on our attic steps and me looking through it over and over again.

Investigators would later uncover a myriad of causes that led to the horrific effect, including fog, misunderstood and squelched communications, an impatient pilot, and an airport forced to handle aircraft that it really wasn’t designed to take.

I think there’s a ton of garbage on TV, but amongst the trash are a couple gems.  One such nugget is on the National Geographic channel and is called “Seconds From Disaster“.  The show takes all kinds of incidents (the Mount St. Helens eruption, F1 legend Ayrton Senna’s death, the crash of the afore-mentioned Concorde, etc.) and meticulously dissects the events leading up to them.  One of the episodes I watched detailed the Tenerife disaster, and I found it to be very revealing.  Look for that episode and watch it.  I believe it’s also possible to order episodes from National Geographic, so that may be an option as well.

Also, on this day in 1965, my parents were married.  Happy 43rd anniversary!!!

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