24 July 2014

Do plane crashes happen in threes? - yes, and sometimes in fours and fives

Note:This an updated version of an article first published in February 2009

Since AirSafe.com was launched in 1996, the site has tracked fatal events and other significant events involving airline passengers. When these events occur, especially if two occur a just a few days apart, I sometimes get the "Do bad things like plane crashes always happen in threes?" question asked by visitors to the site, by members of the media, and by others.

I used to just dismiss the question out of hand because events like plane crashes, especially those involving passenger airliners, are very rare, and the circumstances are usually very different for each crash, often involving different airlines, different aircraft types, and even different countries.

Although it's easy to reject the original question, it is quite legitimate to ask a related question about how frequently groups of rare events occur over a relatively short period of time.

One day, just for fun, I turned the "things happening in threes" question into something that could be analyzed systematically using the information within AirSafe.com. I changed the general question into the following specific question: "How frequent are sequences of three or more fatal or significant aviation safety and security events where the time between events is ten days or less?"

For example, a sequence of three events could happen on the same day, or it could be over a period as long as 20 days, with a 10-day gap between the first and second event, and another 10-day gap between the second and third event.

The most recent sequence of three events took place over the course of seven days beginning with the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17th, followed by the crash of an TransAsia ATR airliner in Taiwan on July 23th, and ending with the crash of an Air Algerie MD83 in Mali on July 24th.

For the purposes of answering this question, I limited the data to those events that are regularly tracked by AirSafe.com. These would be plane crashes or other airline events that kill at least one passenger, or other events that AirSafe.com considers to be significant with respect to aviation safety or aviation security.

Multiple events due to the same cause (for example, the four crashes associated with 9/11) were treated as one event. Significant events that don't kill anyone sometimes attract more media attention than the average plane crash. The January 2008 ditching of a US Airways A320 in the Hudson River in New York was one example. It was very dramatic, it got a huge amount of media exposure, and no one was killed.

A review of the AirSafe.com records from 1996, the year AirSafe.com was launched, to July 2014 revealed some interesting facts:

  • With the exception of 2007, 2009, and 2013, every year since 1996 included at least one sequence of three fatal or significant events that were separated by no more than ten days. There was a sequence of five significant, but nonfatal, events in January 2008 (one of which involved Senator Barack Obama), and a sequence of eight events in 2010, seven of which involved fatalities.

  • There were 25 sequences of three or more events that were separated no more than ten days. One was a sequence of eight events, three were sequences of five events, five sequences had four events, and the other sixteen consisted of three events each.

  • Most of the fatal and significant events tracked from 1996 to the present were not part of any sequence of three or more events.

  • Well known fatal events that were a part of one of these sequences include the Swissair MD-11 crash in 1998, the Concorde crash in 2000, the August 2006 crash of a Comair jet, in Lexington, KY, the August 2008 crash of a Spanair MD83 in Madrid, and the July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

  • Well known events that were not a part of one of these sequences include the ValuJet and TWA Flight 800 crashes in 1996, the Alaska Airlines crash in 2000, the four crashes associated with 9/11, and the March 2014 loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

  • For 16 of the past 19 calendar years (1996 to 2014), there has been at least one grouping of three or more fatal or significant events that occurred over a relatively short period.

  • No information has come about in the investigations of any of those events that indicates that there was any sort of connection among the crashes that were part of a sequence of three or more events, or that suggested that earlier events in a sequence made a later event more likely.

After reviewing the facts, I no longer say that plane crashes don't happen in threes. Since 1996, they have happened in sequences of three, four, five, and eight.

- Todd Curtis


Fatal and serious events by year
1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
2001, 2002,2003, 2004, 2005
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Related information
26 July 2014 - Todd Curtis discusses his findings on the Rudy Maxa Show (6:44)


AirSafe.com Bonuses
All subscribers to the AirSafe.com mailing list at subscribe.airsafe.com will be able to download free copies of all of the recent AirSafe.com books, including the latest, AirSafe.com Family Air Travel Guide.

Also available is the AirSafe.com Fear of Flying Resource Guide, with an overview of the symptoms of fear of flying, as well as recommended resources for managing or eliminating these fears.

20 July 2014

Jet airliner passengers killed by missiles and other aerial attacks

The 17 July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine is not the first time a missile strike or other aerial attack has been suspected in the crash of a jetliner.

The following events involve confirmed or suspected passenger deaths on large jet airliners due to an attack by missiles, anti-aircraft gunfire, or other aerial attacks.

This list includes inflight events involving air-to-air missiles, ground to air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, or gunfire. The list excludes fatalities due to hijacking, sabotage, or bombings.

  1. 21 February 1973; Libyan Arab Airlines 727-200; Flight 114; Israeli occupied Sinai Desert: The aircraft was shot down by Israeli fighter jets after the 727 had strayed into the airspace of the occupied territory. Eight of the nine crew members and 100 of the 104 passengers were killed.
    727 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event
  2. 20 April 1978; Korean Air Lines 707-300; flight 902; near Kem, Soviet Union: The aircraft diverted from its planned course on a flight from Paris to Seoul and strayed over the Soviet Union. After being fired upon by an interceptor aircraft, the crew made a forced landing at night on the surface of a frozen lake. Two of the 97 passengers were killed by the hostile fire.
    Korean Air Lines plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  3. 1 September 1983; Korean Air Lines 747-200; flight 007; near Sakhalin Island, Soviet Union: The aircraft was shot down by at least one Soviet air to air missile after the 747 had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 240 passengers and 29 crew were killed.
    International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors
    747 plane crashes
    Korean Air Lines plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  4. 3 July 1988; Iranair A300; flight 665; Persian Gulf, near Straits of Hormuz: Aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile from the American naval vessel U.S.S. Vincennes. All 16 crew and 274 passengers were killed.
    Iran Air plane crashes
    Airbus A300 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  5. 4 October 2001; Sibir Airlines Tupolev Tu154M; flight 1812; Black Sea near Adler, Russia: The plane crashed about 184 kilometers (114 miles) from southern Russia in the Black Sea, shortly after the aircraft exploded in flight. The aircraft had departed from Tel Aviv, Israel on a charter flight to Novosibirsk, Russia and was at cruise altitude when the explosion occurred. The reason for the in-flight explosion, which was witnessed by another airliner flight crew, is not known. However, various pieces of evidence point to an inadvertent strike by a Ukrainian military missile. All 12 crew members and 64 passengers were killed.
    Wikipedia page on this event

  6. 24 June 2014; Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); A31-300; AP-BGN; flight PK756; Peshawar, Pakistan The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Peshawar, Pakistan, when it was struck by several bullets shortly before landing. Two cabin crew members and one passenger were hit, and the passenger died of her injuries. There were no other injuries among the 10 other crew members or 177 other passengers.
    Fatal PIA Events
    Airbus A310 plane crashes

  7. 17 July 2014; Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER; 9M-MRD; flight MH17; near Grabovo, Ukraine: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight between Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The aircraft in cruise at about 33,000 feet when it experienced a catastrophic in flight breakup. Substantial circumstantial evidence indicates that the jet was hit by a surface to air missile. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed.
    Fatal Malaysia Airlines Events
    777 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event


Related Pages
Recent plane crashes
Fatal plane crashes by model
Fatal plane crash rates by model

19 July 2014

Seven Todd Curtis interviews about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

In the immediate aftermath of the crash of a large airliner, there is typically an intense focus on the event by the world's media.

In the case of the crash in eastern Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17; a Boeing 777 that was traveling between Amsterdam, Netherlands and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; there was ample circumstantial evidence that the jet was shot down by a surface to air missile, but this was not directly confirmed within the first two days after the crash.

The crash occurred in an area of active military activity in eastern Ukraine, and no official investigative bodies were able to examine the crash site or the aircraft wreckage. In spite of that situation, there was substantial video and photographic evidence that clearly indicated that the aircraft experienced a catastrophic inflight breakup prior to impact.

Todd Curtis of AirSafe.com was interviewed over a dozen times in the first 48 hours after the crash. Seven of those interviews, which were conducted from 17-19 July 2014, were compiled into the latest podcast episode from AirSafe.com.

The media organizations in the podcast episode included the following:

  • 17 July 2014
    - BBC World (TV)
    - BBC Five Live (radio)
    - NTN 24 La Tarde (see video below)
    - BBC WM 95.6 (radio)
  • 18 July 2014
    - CKNW Vancouver, BC (radio)
    - CJAD Montreal (radio)
  • 18 July 2014
    - CTV News Channel Canada (TV)

Resources
Seven Todd Curtis interviews about flight MH17
Boeing 777 crashes
AirSafe.com MH370 page
Other AirSafe.com podcasts
Flight MH17 Wikipedia page
Crash rates by airliner model
AirSafe.com podcast home page
Listen to the podcast on TunIn


NTN 24 La Tarde interview (Spanish)


08 July 2014

Passenger issues and marijuana in Washington State

8 July 2014 - Today, Washington becomes the second US state (after Colorado earlier this year) to allow any adult aged 21 or over to legally purchase marijuana (cannabis), without any prescription, license, or other special permission.

While the laws related to purchasing and consuming marijuana have changed in Washington and Colorado, there have been no changes in the rules and regulations related to airline travel and marijuana.

Key things passengers should know
There are a few key things that any airline passenger should understand about the current laws before traveling to Washington or Colorado:

  • Federal law has not changed: Marijuana continues to be illegal at the federal (national) level. The federal government allows medical or recreational use of marijuana within a state, but prohibits the transportation of marijuana across state lines.

  • Possession is limited at airports: The federal government has banned marijuana from any area under federal control, including the secure areas of the airport (the areas inside the TSA screening areas).

  • You can't fly with marijuana: The federal government bans marijuana, even medical marijuana, on commercial aircraft, whether in a carry-on item, in checked bags, or in any package being shipped by air.

  • Medical marijuana is treated the same: The federal government makes no distinction between medical marijuana and other kinds of marijuana.

The TSA and marijuana
The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and the TSA has stated that its security officers do not specifically search for illegal drugs. However, if they discover marijuana or a marijuana-related item (even in Washington or Colorado), TSA's policy is to refer the matter to law enforcement.

Law enforcement at an airport typically handled by a local or state level law enforcement agency. How a passenger will be treated will depend on the location and the circumstances. At the very least, the passenger's marijuana will likely be confiscated.

Entering the US with marijuana
US customs officials will not allow marijuana, or any item intended to be used with marijuana, to enter the country. In addition, non-US citizens who attempt to enter the US with marijuana or marijuana-related items may be prevented from entering the US.

Also, if you are a non-US citizens who is attempting to enter the US for the purposes of consuming marijuana in Washington or Colorado, you could be prevented from entering the country.

Marijuana resources on AirSafe.com
The following pages provide detailed information about issues surrounding air travel and marijuana:


Todd Curtis was interviewed by iCannabisRadio.com on 3 February 2014 about airline travel issues for passengers who plan to fly to Colorado or Washington state to legally purchase and consume recreational marijuana. Watch the video below, or listen to the MP3 of the same interview


Photo credit: DEA

04 July 2014

Three BBC interviews about DHS security enhancements for selected flights from Europe to the US

On July 2, 2014, the Department of Homeland security directed the TSA to implement enhanced security measures at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States. These changes were in response to intelligence information that suggested that one or more groups were attempting to detonate explosive devices on one or more aircraft traveling from the US from Europe. These measures were being implemented in the UK, and in other countries, though TSA and Homeland Security did not go into further details.

The Standard newspaper in the UK reported that the threat may be from “stealth” bombs that can't be detected using the screening technologies commonly used by airports. Other media outlets speculate that the devices may be built into specific mobile phone models, or that the people carrying these devices may be passport holders from the US and other western countries. However, this is speculation that has not been either confirmed or denied by official sources in the US and elsewhere.

On July 2nd and 3rd, Todd Curtis of AirSafe.com was interviewed several times by the BBC about several issues that were raised by this latest security situation.


Interview on Rudy Maxa's World
Todd Curtis was also interviewed on this issue on July 5, 2014 on Rudy Maxa's World.


Interview on July 7, 2014 with the Wall Srteet Journal


You can also find additional airline security information at http://security.airsafe.com, or at the following links:


29 June 2014

Six month safety review for 2014

This review of plane crashes and other significant events from the first six months of 2014 discusses three airline events, two of which involved at least one confirmed passengers fatality, and the third, which involved suspected passenger fatalities on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Since AirSafe.com began tracking such events in 1996, there have been three or fewer fatal events in the first six months of a calendar year on five other occasions. There were also three fatal events in the first six months of 2001, 2005, and 2010. There was a single fatal event in the first six months of 2006 and 2013.

This review includes all fatal events, specifically events involving passenger fatalities in aircraft which have the capacity to seat at least 10 passengers where those models are used in regular airline service in North America, western Europe, Australia, or Japan. Also included are plane crashes and other significant events that did not qualify as a fatal event, but that either had high media interest or that had noteworthy aviation safety or security implications.

All of the events in the first half of 2014 were fatal events, and there were no significant events. From 1996 to 2014, there have been a total of 81 fatal events and 35 significant events in the first half of the year, for an average of 4.26 fatal events and 1.94 significant events each year.

The AirSafe.com definitions page has additional details on how an event is assigned to a category. The Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 event led to a change in the definitions, expanding the fatal event category to include situations where an airliner has been missing for at least 30 days, and where there is also substantial indirect evidence that one or more passengers were killed.


Events Killing Airline Passengers

  1. 16 February 2014; Nepal Airlines DHC-6 Twin Otter 300; 9N-ABB; flight 183; en route between Pokhara and Jumla, Nepal: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Pokhara to Jumla, Nepal. Radio contact was lost about 30 minutes after takeoff. The crashed aircraft was found the next day, and all three crew members and 15 passengers had been killed.

  2. 8 March 2014; Malaysia Airlines 777-200; 9M-MRO; flight MH370; unknown location: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Beijing, China and went missing while en route. The current location and status of the aircraft, along with that of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members who were on board, is unknown.

    This is a numbered event as defined by AirSafe.com because there is substantial indirect evidence that one or more passengers were killed.

    Visit the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 page for additional information, including links to articles and interviews of Dr. Todd Curtis of AirSafe.com

  3. 24 June 2014; Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); A310-300; AP-BGN; flight PK756; Peshawar, Pakistan The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Peshawar, Pakistan, when it was struck by several bullets shortly before landing. Two cabin crew members and one passenger were hit, and the passenger died of her injuries. There were no other injuries among the 10 other crew members or 177 other passengers.
    Fatal PIA Events


Other Significant Events

None


Other Years
1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000,
2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
2011, 2012, 2013


AirSafe.com Bonuses
All subscribers to the AirSafe.com mailing list at subscribe.airsafe.com will be able to download free copies of all of the recent AirSafe.com books, including the AirSafe.com Family Air Travel Guide.

Also available is the AirSafe.com Fear of Flying Resource Guide, with an overview of the symptoms of fear of flying, as well as recommended resources for managing or eliminating these fears.

28 June 2014

Passenger killed by shots fired at airliner

24 June 2014; Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); A310-300; AP-BGN; flight PK756; Peshawar, Pakistan - The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Peshawar, Pakistan, when it was struck by several bullets shortly before landing. Two cabin crew members and one passenger were hit, and the passenger died of her injuries. There were no other injuries among the 10 other crew members or 177 other passengers.

According to one Pakistani newspaper, an airline official stated that the plane was 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) away from the runway when it was hit by gunfire from the ground.

This was the eighth event involving a passenger fatality on an A310, and the first since a June 2009 crash that killed all but one person on board the aircraft.

This was the ninth event involving a passenger fatality on a PIA flight, and the first since a July 2007 crash that killed all 41 passengers and four crew members on board the aircraft.

Related information
Crashes and other fatal passenger events on the A310
Fatal passenger events involving PIA