Facebook Pixel
Plane Crash Diaries

Episode 18 - The Tenerife disaster, CRM part two & the introduction of read back procedures

Plane Crash Diaries
Plane Crash Diaries
This episode we’ll probe the Tenerife disaster on 27 March 1977 which remains the most deadly aviation accident in history.

583 people died when two Boeing 747s collided on the Canary Island of Tenerife - one operated by KLM and the other by Pan Am.

This led to a major aviation safety initiative the known as Cockpit Resource Management or CRM which is now part of pilot training where combined crew input is encouraged and the captain can be questioned. It also led to other changes in communication methodology between planes waiting to take off and the tower as well as setting English as the language of aviation.

The problem with CRM is that it comes up against different cultures in the world, where the decisions by the strong man in charge are generally not contradicted. This is thought to be behind the accident in Pakistan during Covid-19 lockdown in May 2020 where authorities say not only was CRM ignored by the senior pilot, he also apparently tried to land an Airbus at 240 knots – well over its recommended landing speed.

Back to Tenerife 1977 – an incident which still shocks those who hear the details for the first time.

There were no survivors from the KLM aircraft and only 61 of the 396 passengers and crew on the Pan Am aircraft survived.

Pilot error was the primary cause, as the KLM captain began his take-off run without obtaining air traffic control clearance in extremely dense fog. But as you’ll hear, there is more to this story.

The conversation between PanAm, KLM and the ATC was peppered with confusing messages.

Other contributing factors were a terrorist incident at Gran Canaria Airport on a separate island that had caused many flights to be diverted to Los Rodeos, a small airport on the island of Tenerife not well equipped to handle aircraft of such size arriving together.

This increased the stress on the Air Traffic Controller and mistakes were bound to be made.

The Canary Islands are infamous among pilots for the extreme wind and weather conditions that spring up on this archipelago off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. The weather was to play a major role in this catastrophe.
Plane Crash Diaries
Not playing