Pan Am 1736 and KLM 4805 at Tenerife: The World’s Deadliest Plane Crash 40 Years Later
Forty years ago, on March 27, 1977, two Boeing 747s – Pan Am Flight 1736 and KLM Flight 4805 – collided on the Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It remains the worst crash in aviation history.
When the accident occurred, around 6 p.m. local time, the KLM jumbo jet was traveling down the runway in an attempt to take off, albeit without clearance, and crashed into the Pan Am aircraft, which was taxiing on the runway. The Pan Am aircraft, which had been given permission to leave its parking stand and proceed to a takeoff point, was moving very slowly because Captain Victor Grubs had felt that this was about as fast as it was safe to go, according to his co-pilot.
First Officer Robert Bragg saw the KLM plane’s landing lights heading towards them and began shouting to get off the runway. The captain started to turn the airplane but it was too late.
“I could not believe that man was taking off,” the co-pilot told the BBC in 2016. “I closed my eyes and ducked.” He then looked up and saw that the top of the aircraft was gone.
The sound of the explosion was heard across the island, according to eyewitness reports.
The two jumbo jets had been among those diverted from nearby Gran Canaria Airport, after a bomb explosion and the threat of a second bomb, to what was then Los Rodeos Airport (now Tenerife North Airport). The number of aircraft arriving at Los Rodeos forced air traffic controllers to park many of the planes on the taxiway, partially blocking it, and conditions became increasingly challenging as a dense fog developed, greatly reducing visibility.
The Pan Am flight had originated at Los Angeles International Airport and had a stopover at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The aircraft, Clipper Victor, a 747-121, was the same plane that performed the inaugural Boeing 747 commercial flight on January 22, 1970.
The KLM flight, a Boeing 747-206B, was a charter flight that had departed Amsterdam earlier in the day.
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