November 18, 2015

Plane Crash Statistics: 23 Nail-Biting Facts and Trends

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Traveling soon? If your fear of flying isn't scary enough, we'll give you some more jitters with these eye-opening plane crash statistics. Some facts will ease your mind, but many will make you wary of booking that next flight. Buckle in and prepare for some unsettling trends.

© Mark Bray (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

PLANE CRASH FATALITIES ARE LESS FREQUENT THAN YOU THINK

Are you about to board a flight and need some reassurance? Here it is: The chances of dying in a plane crash are still relatively slim compared to other means of getting around.

1. What are the odds of being in a plane crash vs. a car accident?
You have a much better chance of dying when you’re behind the wheel than in the air. The risk of dying in a car accident is 1 in 7,700 versus 1 in more than 2 million for a plane crash. The fact is, car accidents are the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., even though many of us have a greater fear of planes than automobiles.

2. How many airplanes crash each year?
On an annual basis, the number of plane crashes is relatively small compared to how many flights take place. For 2014, the accident rate was 0.23%, or about 1 accident for every 4.4 million flights.

3. How many people have a fear of flying?
If you’re anxious about getting on a plane, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 6.5% of the population is afraid to fly.

4. Are they justified in that fear?
Think of it this way: It takes a lot of miles from all the airplanes zipping around day after day before a flight proves fatal. Statistically, there are just 1.9 deaths for every 100 million flight miles traveled. As #1 explained, you’re more likely to hear about multiple car crashes every day than you do about a fatality in the air.

5. What percentage of plane crash victims survive?
By and large, plane crash victims are more likely to be injured than die. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 95% of plane crash victims ultimately walk away from the accident.

6. Who’s most likely to survive a plane crash?
People who pay less for their seat can be the safest. The survival rate for passengers sitting in the rear is 69% compared to 49% for those who claim a spot in first class.

7. Are you more or less likely to survive a train crash?
Railroad accidents, which can be even more devastating than plane crashes, are also more deadly. The U.S. Department of Transportation puts the odds of dying in a train crash at 1 in 306,000. You might want to switch that train ticket to New York to a plane ticket after all.

PLANE CRASH FREQUENCY BY SIZE

© Brian Harris (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

The likelihood of your next flight ending in disaster has a lot to do with what kind of plane you’ll be getting into and where you’re taking off from.

8. How often do commercial planes crash?
The odds of being involved in a commercial plane crash aboard a passenger flight are relatively low. In 2013, there were only 20 commercial plane accidents, and just one proved to be fatal.

9. What’s the risk for smaller planes?
Smaller commuter planes have a tendency to be more dangerous than commercial flights. Between 1999 and 2011, over 200 aviation fatalities were recorded each year, and 60% of them involved single-engine planes.

10. What’s the crash rate for cargo planes?
Cargo planes are also more at risk of being involved in an accident compared to commercial planes. Between 2004 and 2014, there were 107 cargo plane accidents and nearly 430 related casualties.

11. What part of the world has the most crashes?
North America ranks number one in terms of plane accidents and fatalities worldwide, with 983 accidents recorded since 1945. Antarctica proves to be the safest continent, with just five crashes over that same period, but, of course, they have fewer planes taking off from there.

12. How much have crash rates changed over time?
Thanks to technological improvements and increased regulation of the airline industry, plane crashes have declined significantly over the last several decades. Between 1959 and 2013, crashes dropped by 75% while fatalities went down by 85%.

PLANE CRASH CAUSES

© policiacolombia (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Planes are more vulnerable to a crash at certain times during the flight than others. They’re also more likely to be traced back to good old-fashioned human error. Here’s a look at when and why plane crashes most frequently occur.

13. What percentage of plane crashes happen during takeoff?
The ascent is one of the riskiest times for an accident to happen. According to Boeing, 20% of fatal crashes take place during the takeoff or the initial climb into the air.

14. What percentage happen once the plane reaches cruising altitude?
It’s a common misconception that most planes crash once the flight is fully underway. Just 8% of fatal plane crashes happen during cruise mode.

15. How often do planes crash on landing?
Surprisingly, the end of the flight is when you’re most at risk for a crash. Between 1959 and 2008, 36% of fatal airline accidents occurred when the plane was on its final approach or landing.

16. What percentage of plane crashes is caused by pilot error?
Overwhelmingly, plane crashes are the direct result of a mistake on the part of the person who’s at the controls. Overall, 53% of crashes are chalked up to pilot error.

17. How frequently does weather play a role in plane crashes?
Flying in bad weather usually means sitting through a bumpy ride and in some cases, turbulence can lead to a crash. Weather is behind 12% of all plane crashes on record.

18. How many plane crashes are caused by sabotage?
In rare instances, a plane may be brought down deliberately. Approximately 8% of crashes are caused by sabotage.

OTHER PLANE CRASH FACTS

It’s normal to have some anxiety about flying. Knowing which airlines have the best and worst track records can help to ease your fears somewhat. To round things out, we’ve included a few interesting facts about record events in plane crash history.

19. Which airline is considered the most dangerous?
The title for the most dangerous airline is actually shared by two different companies. Nepal Airlines and Tara Air, both based in Nepal, tied for the most likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

20. Which airline is the safest?
Australian airline Qantas consistently ranks as the safest pick for travelers, with zero fatalities recorded since it first began offering flights in the 1950s.

21. How often do airplanes go missing?
Between 1948 and 2014, 89 airliners have gone missing worldwide. Twenty-seven of them disappeared over land while 62 vanished without a trace while flying over water.

22. What’s the deepest ocean crash on record?
In 1987, a Boeing 747 crashed into the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Madagascar. The plane’s wreckage was eventually recovered from a depth of 14,706 feet.

23. Which crash ranks as the worst in history?
The most fatal plane crash on record occurred in Tenerife, Spain, way back in 1977. Dense ground fog caused two Boeing 747s to collide, resulting in 583 deaths.

BOTTOM LINE

From a statistical perspective, flying is safer than it’s ever been, and it’s the roadways you should really be worried about. Practically speaking, though, some of these stats will still justifiably give you the chills. Just know that the next time you do fly, the chances of a crash are very, very slim.

Sources and References

  • IATA
  • Aviation Safety Network
  • Insurance Information Institute
  • AirlineRatings.com
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • PlaneCrashInfo.com
  • Boeing
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Popular Mechanics
  • National Transportation Safety Board
  • Government Accountability Office

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