Mayday Air Disasters
**New Season Just Added** Statistically, traveling by airplane is safer than driving and other forms of transportation, but when something goes wrong during a flight, it can be catastrophic with potentially hundreds of lives at stake. This series examines some of the world's worst air disasters, using official reports, transcripts and interviews with people involved to tell the stories of midair mishaps and discover what went wrong in each case.
1. Cockpit Failure
November 24th, 2001 — Making a routine one-hour journey from Berlin, Crossair Flight #3597 is on its final approach to Zurich. It is one of the last planes scheduled to land before the airport shuts down for the night. But just minutes before landing the pilots cannot find the runway. They decide to abort the maneuver and apply full power to all four engines in order to get their jet to climb. But they are too late. The aircraft clips the treetops below and crashes into a hillside. Investigators comb through the wreckage, and the data from the plane’s Black Boxes. But they would only solve the riddle of Crossair Flight 3597 by digging into the past.
2. The Heathrow Enigma
January 17th, 2008 — Approaching the end of its ten-hour journey from Beijing, British Airways Flight #38 is preparing to land in Heathrow. But just as the pilots take over the controls, and only two minutes before it touches down, the aircraft is inexplicably crippled by double engine failure. Quickly falling out of the sky and with just seconds to react, the captain raises the plane’s flaps to reduce drag. And while the plane narrowly misses the buildings and radio towers in its path, it crashes on the tarmac, ripping off the engines and landing gear. Incredibly, all 152 people on board survive. But can investigators determine what brought down one of the world’s most sophisticated jetliners?
3. Pilot Betrayed
December 27th, 1991 — Scandinavian Airlines Flight #751 is mired in snow and slush at Stockholm airport. The DC-9 is de-iced twice to ensure it’s safe for take-off. Despite the winter conditions, the aircraft takes off smoothly. But within seconds, the engines begin emitting a series of rapid-fire booming noises, smoke begins filtering through the cabin, and less than two minutes later, both engines fail. As the pilots try restarting them, the left engine erupts in flames. 3,000 feet above the ground, the plane has lost all power and is falling quickly and silently from the sky. The plane hits the ground, breaking into three pieces, but remarkably everyone on board survives. But can investigators determine what brought down the nearly new, state-of-the-art jetliner?
4. Dead Tired
February 12th, 2009 — Two hours behind schedule and nearing the end of its 53-minute trip from Newark, New Jersey, Continental Connection Flight #3407 is approaching Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. Flying through snow and strong winds, the pilots can see the lights of the city below, but as they lower their landing gear and extend the flaps to slow the plane, the control column suddenly starts to shake. It’s a warning that the plane is about to stall. The captain struggles to keep the plane flying but the out-of-control aircraft suddenly plummets towards the ground and crashes into a suburban home. It is the worst US crash in more than 7 years, but with a raging fire consuming the wreckage, can investigators determine what went wrong?
5. Hudson River Runway
January 15th, 2009 — Just minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, United Airlines Flight #1549 collides with a flock of birds. Both engines suddenly lose all thrust, and the Airbus A-320 begins falling from the sky. The crew desperately tries to restart their engines, but can’t. With New York on one side and New Jersey on the other, Captain Chesley Sullenberger is running out of options. Searching desperately for a place to land, Sullenberger warns passengers and crew to brace for impact and tells the control tower that he will be ditching the plane in the icy waters of the Hudson River. Amazingly, all 155 people on board survive, and investigators try to determine how birds could have crippled two of the world’s most advanced jet engines. Can they prevent it from happening again?
6. Who's in Control?
February 25th, 2009 — Arriving from Istanbul, Turkish Airlines Flight #1951 is on its final approach to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The crew is following instructions from the control tower that will line up their Boeing 737 with the runway. In the final seconds of the flight, however, the plane suddenly falls from the sky and crashes into a muddy field just north of the airport. Of the 135 people on board, nine die at the scene, and investigators begin pouring through the wreckage to determine what brought down one of the world’s most popular passenger jets. Can they figure out what went wrong in time to prevent another similar catastrophe?
1. Fight for Control
En route from Cold Bay, Alaska, to Seattle, Washington, Reeve Aleutian Airlines Flight #8 is 19,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean when the propeller from one of its four turboprop engines flies off and tears a hole in the fuselage. Rocked by explosive decompression, the pilots fight to control the plane as the cabin and cockpit fill with heavy fog. With the engines stuck in full throttle and with their control column jammed in place, they have no way to steer the aircraft. Unable to descend to a safer altitude and with their emergency oxygen running out, they are flying straight out to sea in a plane on the verge of tearing itself apart.
2. Fire in the Hold
Headed for Atlanta in an aging DC-9, the crew of ValuJet Flight #592 hears a mysterious sound shortly after taking off from Miami. Almost immediately, they are hit with a barrage of mechanical failures. At first, they notice an electrical problem. The plane’s batteries are draining fast. But within minutes, the situation gets much worse. The pilots hear screams of ‘fire’ coming from the cabin. With flames burning through the cabin floor and smoke filling the aircraft, the crew attempts a return to the airport. For passengers, there’s no escaping the onboard inferno. Plummeting to the ground at over 500 miles per hour, the plane crashes into the Florida Everglades killing all 110 people on board.
3. Caution to the Wind
As Taiwan braces for an intense tropical storm, Singapore Airlines Flight 006 prepares to take off from Taipei’s Chang Kai-shek Airport. Bound for Los Angeles, the plane needs to get airborne before the typhoon hits. But as the 747 hurtles down the runway, the pilots suddenly lose control of the aircraft. It spins around violently, crashes and breaks apart. Survivors desperately flee the burning wreckage and of the 179 people on board, 83 people die. With much of the wreckage found on the adjacent runway, investigators wonder if fierce winds blew the aircraft off course. But when they find tire marks on a runway under construction, they reach a much darker conclusion.
4. Pushed to the Limit
En route from Jakarta, Indonesia, to the airline’s home base in Singapore, SilkAir Flight 185 is 35,000 feet above the jungles of Sumatra when the plane banks sharply to the right, takes a nosedive, and crashes into a remote jungle river. All 104 people on board die in the disaster and then it’s up to investigators to figure out what happened. At first, they suspect mechanical failure. But when the full story behind the crash is finally revealed, it proves more disturbing than anyone could have imagined.
5. Blind Landing
Investigators face a major challenge when looters make off with the Flight Data Recorder from the crash of TANS Peru Flight 204. Wreckage allows investigators to rule out engine failure. But with no FDR, it will take all their ingenuity to reconstruct the final moments of the flight and figure out why the 737 crashed into the jungle, just 4 kilometers short of the runway.
6. Grand Canyon Disaster
In 1956, a mid-air collision sends two planes crashing into the Grand Canyon killing all 128 passengers and crew on board. Armed only with the rudimentary tools of the time, investigators from the Federal Civil Aviation Board must determine what caused the crash. Their conclusions will uncover a frightening problem that threatens the safety of the entire aviation system.
7. Catastrophe at O'Hare
May 25, 1979 — Seconds after American Airlines Flight 191 lifts off from Chicago, the left engine suddenly falls off the plane. The crew loses control of the aircraft and it and crashes moments later. 273 people are killed, making this the deadliest aviation accident in US history. The FAA grounds DC-10s across the country while investigators try to figure out why one of the most popular planes in the sky broke apart.
8. Focused on Failure
United Airlines Flight 173 is troubleshooting a minor landing gear problem when the plane suddenly loses all four engines. Unable to make it to the airport, the DC-8 crash lands in a wooded suburb of Portland, Oregon. Ten of the 189 people on board die in the disaster and it’s up to investigators to figure out how a small mechanical problem somehow brought down a plane.
9. Lokomotiv Hockey Team Disaster
One of Russia’s most popular hockey teams is on its way to Minsk, Belarus, for their first game of the 2011 season. Their Soviet built Yak-42D starts down the main runway at Yaroslavl’s Tunoshna Airport. But instead of lifting off, the plane runs off the end of the tarmac, strikes a tower and crashes into the Volga River. Only the plane’s mechanic survives the disaster. Around the globe, fans mourn the biggest tragedy in the history of the sport. Russian President Medvedev demands answers, and investigators are under tremendous pressure to find out what went wrong.
10. Death of the President
Polish President Lech Kaczynski is killed after his plane crashes in heavy fog on approach to a Russian military airport. Poland and Russia both launch official investigations to discover the cause of the crash and at first, it seems that the pilot’s decision to attempt a landing in heavy fog may be to blame. But investigators soon learn that there’s a lot more to this accident than simple pilot error.
11. Heading to Disaster
January 25th, 2010 — En route to Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 takes off from Beirut, Lebanon, with 90 people on board. As the plane climbs to cruising altitude, tower controllers ask the pilots to turn on to a new heading. The pilots acknowledge the instruction. But just moments later, the plane spirals out of control and crashes into the Mediterranean Sea. Several witnesses report seeing an explosion at the time of the crash leading investigators to suspect terrorism. But after almost two years of investigation they reach a very different and controversial conclusion.
12. 28 Seconds to Survive
February 21st, 2008 — After taking off from Mérida, Venezuela, Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 518 is high above the Andes Mountains en route to Caracas. But after just six minutes in the air, an alarm tells the pilots they are dangerously close to the ground. Before they can react, the aircraft smashes into a mountaintop and is pulverized on impact instantly killing all 46 people on board. The wreckage is found 11 km from the airport at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Accessing the remote site is a major challenge for investigators, and so is unraveling the many causes that led to the disaster.
13. Air France 447: Vanished
The disappearance of Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean launches one of the most difficult air crash investigations of all time. With the wreckage lost at sea, it will take nearly two years for investigators to uncover the shocking reasons behind the crash.
1. Scratching the Surface
Twenty minutes after taking off from Taipei, a China Airlines 747 suddenly disappears from radar. A massive rescue mission is launched — but all 225 passengers and crew are dead.
2. Lockerbie Disaster
December 21, 1988 - Shortly after taking off from Heathrow Airport, Pan Am Flight 103 suddenly explodes in the skies above Lockerbie, Scotland.
3. Blown Apart
September 8, 1989 - On a charter trip from Oslo to Hamburg, Partnair Flight 94 is cruising at 22,000 feet -- when it suddenly begins diving toward the sea.
4. Sight Unseen
November 12th, 1996 — Shortly after take off from New Delhi, Saudi Airways Flight 763 levels off at 14,000 feet. As the crew waits for clearance to climb to their cruising altitude, the plane is hit by a Kazakhstan Airlines jet.
5. Operation Babylift
April 4, 1975 — Nearly 250 Vietnamese babies and children are loaded onto an Air Force C5A Galaxy, one of the world’s largest planes. But after a steep and rapid ascent to get out of missile range, the aircraft’s cargo door is violently blown off.
6. Falling Fast
It’s August 6th, 2005, Tuninter Flight 1153 is flying to the Tunisian resort island of Djerba. It’s high above the Mediterranean when, suddenly, its right engine fails. The plane begins falling towards the sea.
7. Flight 574:Lost
January 1, 2007 - After taking off from Indonesia’s Suribaya airport, Adam Air Flight 574 settles in for the two-hour trip to Manado. But somewhere over the Java Sea, the plane hits turbulence, and air traffic controllers notice the aircraft is hundreds of miles off course - and headed for a major storm.
AMAZNG SERIES! but MORE seasons please!
Fascinating show with great production values! Too bad Sundance dropped most seasons and left us with just two👎🏼👎🏼👎🏼👎🏼.
Please, more episodes!!!!
Great series. Very topical with all that's going on with Boeing. Loving these doc series.
Well-documented series. I can't imagine the horror survivors and victims must have felt moments before impact. (I didn't understand why the pilot in S1:E6 was charged with criminal negligence. He reported the faulty fuel gauge, but it wasn't his fault the mechanics replaced it with the wrong one. Should he have been responsible for checking to make sure the part was the correct one?) Would like to see more episodes, particularly those where the pilots were able to troubleshoot and course-correct in mid-air and/or land relatively safely despite engine/mechanical failure. Curious to also know whether there have been any advances to try and make ditching less dangerous.