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Today We Remember: MH 17 and TWA 800

While separated by 18 years, both Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800 have gone down in history as two of the worst plane incidents in history. Each flight tells a very different tale, but ultimately both flights resulted in no survivors and many questions to be answered for the years to come.

TWA Flight 800

TWA 800

Photo provided by Bob Logan

July 17th, 1996 began just like any other day for TWA as Captain Ralph G. Kevorkian prepared for the Boeing 747’s journey across the Atlantic from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Rome with a short layover at Charles DeGaulle International Airport in Paris. The aircraft had multiple issues in previous weeks relating to severed cables and thrust reversers on the aircraft’s third engine. The plane took off just over one hour behind schedule, and there seemed to be few issues as the normal climb was being made. However, after being told to climb to 15,000 feet, a nearby aircraft reported an explosion nearby in the sky.

Numerous media outlets and Americans jumped in to say the plane had to have been shot down or dealt with in a terrorist attack, but the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, immediately stepped in and began what would be a four-year long investigation. The review of the aircraft was the most expensive study ever completed in US history, but would result in a firm determination of probable cause. The NTSB concluded that the aircraft incident was caused by an explosion in a wing fuel tank, most likely triggered by a short circuit nearby.

However, this study would not calm the many conspiracy theories that still remain to this day. Many eyewitness accounts claim that the wiring would not cause the massive explosion, but rather had to have been a terrorist attack or accidental friendly fire by the United States military. In 2013, Epix TV channel aired a documentary titled “TWA Flight 800” aimed at validating some of the conspiracy theories.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17


Photo provided by WikiMedia

Just one year ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was all over the news as countries around the globe attempted to determine the cause of the Boeing 777-200ER crashing near Torez, Ukraine. This was on top of Malaysia Airlines losing Flight 370 four months earlier, resulting in drastic decline in business for the airline. The aircraft departed from Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport on its way to Kuala Lumpar, with an expected arrival on Friday, July 18th. However, only three hours into the flight the plane was gone.

Before the crash occurred, many airlines including British Airways and Korean Air had been avoiding flying through Ukraine due to the Crimean crisis of 2014 between Ukraine and Russia. Malaysia Airlines, however had not put a block on this leg of the flight, and was instructed closely by Ukrainian Traffic Control (UTC) to fly at certain elevations to avoid any issues. After a request by the UTC to transfer control to the Russians, the plane vanished from the radar screen.  Investigators from the Convention on International Civil Aviation and Dutch Safety Board authorities rushed to the scene, only to find that the Ukrainian rebels prevented them from arriving at the scene for two days before recovering the black box that recorded flight data.

The cause of the crash is still being determined with a technical report expected to be released in October of 2015, but United States and Ukrainian officials firmly believe that a surface-to-air missile strike is the most likely cause of the plane crash due to the blistering of the paint around many holes in the aircraft. Several intelligence officials have claimed that it was most likely shot down in error by the Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, but this claim has been vehemently defended by Russian authorities.

Both airplane crashes that have occurred in the last two decades have further pushed engineers, air traffic controllers and even the general public to rethink the importance of safety. While airplanes are still regarded as one of the safest modes of transportation in the world, tragic events such as this will continue to haunt the aviation world for years to come.



  • Joe joined AirlineGeeks in 2014, and in his current role as Editor-in-Chief manages a growing team of writers both in North America and Europe. He enjoys spending the bulk of his time researching, learning and analyzing the latest trends in the airline industry, all while mentoring new members of the AirlineGeeks team who seek to do the same. Areas of research include revenue management, codeshare and alliance partnerships and airline financial results.

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