Statistics suggest that air travel is safer than driving or walking, but accidents can and do occur from time to time. When commercial airliners do crash, the National Transportation Safety Board conducts thorough investigations to find the cause and identify ways to improve airline safety. Most of the time, air crash investigators find that the tragedy was caused by a mechanical problem or some sort of human error.
Pilot error is the most common cause of air disasters. During the 2010s, 57% of the commercial aircraft accidents that resulted in two or more fatalities were caused by mistakes made by pilots. Common types of pilot error include failing to follow airport or airline procedures, operating aircraft under visual flight rules in situations where instrument flight rules should be followed, and landing at unsafe speeds. Mistakes that lead to tragedies can also be made by air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel or ground staff. In 1990, a British Airways pilot was almost killed when the windshield of a BAC-111 airliner blew out minutes after takeoff. Investigators discovered that the maintenance worker who installed the windshield was fatigued at the time and used the wrong securing bolts.
Commercial aircraft have become far more sophisticated in recent decades, but mechanical failures still cause about one in five crashes. One such accident involving a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 took place in July 1989. A cracked fan disc caused the rear engine to fail and severed the plane’s hydraulic lines, which made the aircraft virtually uncontrollable. The pilots managed to reach a nearby airport, but they lost control of the plane as they attempted to land. The ensuing crash claimed 112 lives.
Compensation for air crash victims
Passengers injured in commercial airline accidents and the family members of passengers who lose their lives may pursue civil remedies when crashes are caused by some kind of negligent behavior. When advocating on behalf of air crash victims, personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may use the findings of NTSB investigators to establish liability in lawsuits filed against airlines, aircraft manufacturers or companies that maintain and service large commercial planes.