When an airplane crashes, it is big news, and there seems to have been a lot of them lately. However, statistically, air travel, and in particular private air travel, is still one of the safest ways there is to get from here to there. Far more people die annually on our highways than they do in airplane crashes. In fact, your odds of dying choking on food are 10 times greater than dying in a plane crash!
Still, as rare an occurrence as it is, planes can and do crash. Let’s explore the most common reasons why.
Why Airplanes Crash
There are so many redundancies and safety features built into modern commercial and private aircraft, that for one to crash, it usually is never the result of just one thing, but a unique combination of failures. Therefore, it is not easy to say statistically why planes crash. For example, if something goes wrong mechanically with the jet, but it is not necessarily severe enough to cause a crash, but the pilot did not have the skills or experience to handle the malfunction, is the crash technically the result of “mechanical failure,” or “pilot error?”
However, based on available data, here is how the experts break down the reasons why airplanes crash:
- 55% Pilot Error
- 17% Aircraft Mechanical Error
- 13% Weather
- 8% Sabotage
- 7% Other (ATC, Ground Handling, Unknown)
Statistics notwithstanding, almost all airplane crashes do not occur due to any one of these things, but some kind of combination of one or more of them. You can take some comfort in that.
Again, to give you some idea of just how low the possibilities of a crash are, you need to look at those factors with what the industry calls the “Swiss Cheese Model.” If you cut cubes of Swiss cheese from different blocks of cheese, and put them on a skewer and tried to look through the holes from end to end, it would be very unlikely that you could do so. On a few very rare occasions, the holes would line up, but that would be few and far between. It is the same with an airplane crash. Only on very rare occasions will enough of these factors happen at the same time, to doom the aircraft.
When Do Planes Most Often Crash?
Is there a time over the course of a flight that a crash is most likely to occur? Again, statistically speaking, there is.
Boeing released the following statistics for the worldwide Commercial Jet Fleet between 2005 and 2014.
Percentages of fatal accidents based on phase of flight:
- 13% Take-off
- 8% Climb
- 27% Cruise
- 17% Decent Initial Approach
- 38% Final Approach / Landing
Therefore, statistically, the most dangerous phase of the flight is during landing.