Although rare, mid-air collisions have had a huge impact on the aviation industry and have sparked major changes to ensure safer skies for everyone. In this article, we will delve into 7 instances of mid-air collisions that have fundamentally altered the landscape of aviation.

Popular Mechanics magazine illustrator Artist1. The First Recorded Collision

In 1910, Milan, Italy witnessed the first-ever recorded mid-air collision. The participants were René Thomas, flying an Antoinette monoplane, and British Army Captain Bertram Dickson, piloting a biplane.

Luckily, both pilots survived this incident, with one being badly injured. But it did bring attention to the potential dangers of pilots relying solely on visual separation, as well as the possibility of being in another pilot's blind spot.

As aviation technology advanced over time, these issues would become even more critical to address and finally cause the incident of 1956.

The first fatal collision occurred in Douai, France on the morning of 19 June 1912. The hazy conditions proved deadly as Captain Marcel Dubois and Lieutenant Albert Peignan, soldiers of the French Army, lost their lives in the collision.

Image of a mid-air collision by Anynobody(By Anynobody - This image was created with Blender., CC BY-SA 3.0)

2. UA Flight 718 / TWA Flight 2

The collision of Trans World Airlines Flight 2 and United Airlines Flight 718 on June 30th, 1956 forever changed the world of aviation. It resulted in 128 tragic casualties and was the first accident to cause over 100 deaths, leaving a lasting impact on the industry.

The crash occurred when a Trans World Airlines Lockheed aircraft collided with a United Airlines Douglas over the Grand Canyon.

How it Happened

The devastating collision between these two aircraft occurred in uncontrolled airspace, where the responsibility for avoiding traffic and maintaining visual separation falls solely on the pilots. In a dangerous turn of events, both aircraft inadvertently reached the same altitude and speed, putting them in each other's blindspots and putting them on a collision course without any means of detection.

The Aftermath

A memorial was built in the spot where the collision took place. While these events were tragic, the event would be part of the movement that would bring about monumental changes in aviation traffic control and flight safety measures following the 1958 United Airlines Flight 736 collision and the 1960 New York mid-air collision.

UA Flight 736 Debris Old Newspaper Photo3. UA Flight 736 / United States Air Force Fighter Jet

On April 21st, 1958, an incident occurred between United Airlines Flight 736 and a US Air Force military aircraft, claiming the lives of 49 people. This fatal collision, just two years after the infamous UA Flight 718/TWA Flight 2 disaster, had a profound impact on aviation travel safety.

The passengers of UA 736 included military personnel and civilian contractors working on top-secret projects for the Department of Defense. Because of their untimely deaths, new regulations were implemented to prevent similar groups from traveling together on flights, to protect vital projects critical to national security.

How it Happened

After the investigation, it was concluded that the aircrafts and the pilots involved were hindered by limited cockpit resources and a failure on the part of Nellis Air Force Base and the Civil Aeronautics Administration to prevent potential collisions.

The Aftermath

The devastating crash of TWA Flight 2, UA Flight 718, and UA Flight 736 prompted the creation of two vital government agencies. Just four months following the tragic loss of Flight 736, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was signed into law, establishing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Before this disaster, aircraft relied solely on visual flight rules without radar tracking.

In response to these events, Congress took swift action to modernize the system and enhance safety in commercial aviation. This resulted in the FAA and NTSB working together to make air travel the safest mode of transportation.

Although the incident remains a sad moment in aviation history, it catalyzed major improvements in aviation safety protocols, resulting in a more secure and peaceful experience for all those who take to the skies.

United N8013U Taxied at the Ramp4. UA Flight 826 / TWA Flight 266

It was a day that would never be forgotten, December 16th, 1960. The skies above Miller Field in Staten Island and Park Slope, Brooklyn were the setting for a horrifying disaster. Two commercial flights, carrying a total of 128 persons, crashed into these residential areas, claiming 6 lives on the ground and causing devastation and tragedy.

This event stands as the deadliest aviation accident in United Airlines' history and was considered the world's worst at the time. It occurred just two years after the UA Flight 736 incident, but the causes behind the collision between UA Flight 826 and TWA Flight 266 were vastly different.

How it Happened

The report stated that United Flight 826 went beyond its designated flight path and entered airspace that had not been allocated to it by ATC. The primary cause of this incident was the high speed at which the United DC-8 aircraft was traveling as it approached the Preston intersection, combined with a change in clearance that resulted in a reduction of approximately 11 miles in the planned flight distance along Victor 123.

This issue can be attributed to a failure on the part of UA 826 to comply with ATC instructions, as evidenced by their disregard for the designated clearance limit at Preston intersection.

Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 falling from the sky(By Hans Wendt , Fair use)

5. Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182

The date was September 25th, 1978. A Pacific Southwest Airlines flight, carrying 135 passengers, collided with a Cessna 172 while descending over San Diego, California.

The small plane crashed into the right wing and tail of the commercial aircraft, resulting in the deaths of all onboard both planes. Tragically, seven people on the ground were also killed by falling debris.

It was a devastating event that claimed the lives of 144 individuals and shook the community to its core.

How it Happened

The crash involving PSA Flight 182 was a result of the flight crew's failure to maintain proper visual separation from a Cessna 172 that was practicing ILS(instrument) approaches.

Despite claiming to have the smaller aircraft in sight, they were mistaken and only realized it when it was already too late. Their misleading communication with ATC about the situation ultimately led to the fatal accident.

The Aftermath

Following the horrific crash, the NTSB made quick recommendations to improve aircraft safety near Lindbergh Field. This included implementing a Terminal Radar Service Area and reviewing control procedures for busy terminal zones, but initially did not apply to smaller aircraft.

Later, on May 15, 1980, the FAA introduced Class B airspace and required all planes to operate under "positive radar control" in that area. In response to the Cessna pilot's practicing instrument landings, an instrument landing system was quickly installed at other airports in San Diego County.

Because of this incident and others like it, commercial airplanes are now equipped with Traffic Collision Alert Avoidance Systems (TCAS) which alerts pilots of potential collisions and directs them to take action.

An Ozark Airlines transport plane from the 1960's(By Jon Proctor - Gallery page, GFDL 1.2, Wikipedia)

6. Ozark Airlines Flight 965

On March 27, 1968, a Cessna 150F crashed due to a mid-air collision at Lambert Field. Two planes, Ozark Airline Flight 965 and a Cessna 150F airplane, were attempting their final approach to land when they collided in mid-air. Despite all 49 passengers and crew members on the Ozark Airlines flight making it to safety, the two pilots in the Cessna 150 tragically lost their lives in the collision.

How it Happened

Several contributing factors likely led to this saddening event. The lack of proper VFR separation standards, combined with the failure of the Ozark Transport Aircraft crew to spot the Cessna 150 in time, played a major role.

At the time, the procedures for managing traffic flow during landings were inadequate, and the local controller did not ensure that vital landing information was clearly communicated and understood by the Cessna crew amidst heavy traffic without radar assistance.

Adding to the mix, the Cessna aircraft involved deviated from their assigned traffic pattern instructions and continued toward a critical point without informing the local controller of their progress.

All of these factors seemed to converge and ultimately resulted in a terrible outcome.

Saudia Airliner Photo taken by Simon Butler(by simon butler: gallery )

7. Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 / Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907

On November 12, 1996, a tragic fatal collision occurred between Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907. The horrifying event resulted in the loss of all 349 lives aboard both airplanes, making it one of the deadliest aviation accidents in India's history.

It really does serve as a somber reminder of the fragility of human life and the devastating consequences that can result from even the smallest mistakes in the complex world of air travel.

How it Happened

The root cause analysis was able to determine that the crash of Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 was due to the Kazak pilot's failure to properly follow ATC instructions. This was attributed to communication issues, as it was reported that the pilot had a limited understanding of English and struggled to interpret the instructions given by Air Traffic Control.

On top of that, the pilots were likely preoccupied with navigating through turbulent conditions within a bank of cumulus clouds, further adding to their distraction and potential for error.

The Aftermath

After the crash, authorities in New Delhi took swift action to improve aviation safety measures. They implemented new procedures, including creating designated 'air corridors' to separate inbound and outbound aircraft, installing a secondary air-traffic control radar for monitoring altitude data, and making collision avoidance equipment mandatory for all commercial aircraft operating in Indian airspace.

They also reduced the restricted airspace over New Delhi that was previously controlled solely by the Indian Air Force. These changes aim to prevent future accidents and ensure the safety of all flights within the region.

A large airliner craft taxied at an airport ramp - Pilot MallHow Air Travel is Safer Today

As you read through this extensive information on mid-air collisions, it's natural for any frequent flyer to feel a twinge of anxiety. But before you start questioning the safety of modern air travel, let me assure you that a variety of measures are in place to prevent such incidents from occurring in our highly advanced technological era.

  • Better Rules and Regulations

    Throughout the years, the aviation industry has undergone major changes in its rules and regulations. With organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and national aviation administrations at the helm, strict guidelines have been put in place to prioritize safety.

    These cover a wide range of factors, from aircraft design and maintenance standards to pilot training, ATC procedures, and even emergency protocols.

  • Better Flight Training

    Flight training is always improving, and past experiences are valuable lessons for pilots. Studying past events can guide pilots in avoiding collisions, increasing situational awareness, and communicating effectively with air traffic control (ATC). It is very important to prioritize clear communication for all aircraft flying in the skies.

  • Additional Flight Time for Airline Pilots

    Love it or hate it, the 1500-hour rule for ATP certification has been put into effect in order to qualify pilots for flying with commercial airlines. This requirement means that pilots must accumulate more flight hours before undergoing training for airline positions.

    While accumulating hours in a small aircraft may not seem directly related to larger planes, the reasoning behind this rule is to instill confidence and a thorough understanding of aerodynamics in pilots.

    It also serves as a record of their safety and proficiency throughout their aviation career of 1500 hours.

  • Better Visual Scanning Techniques

    Pilots are constantly reminded to stay alert and scan for other planes while in the air. In flight school, students and private pilots are trained on the criticality of using tools like Flight Following to receive vectors and traffic separation instructions. They can also use devices with traffic detection capabilities for additional situational awareness.

  • Better Aviation Communication Techniques

    Over the years, communication between pilots and ATC has improved a lot. The development of advanced radio contact systems, standard protocols for communication, and the increased language proficiency of aviation professionals have greatly reduced the risk of misunderstandings or errors during critical moments in flight.

    The introduction of digital communication technologies and new systems has also enhanced the efficiency and security of information exchange between aircraft and control towers.

  • Better Traffic Avoidance Systems

    As technology continues to advance, ATCl has access to better methods and tools for guiding airplanes along safe routes. One notable example is the integration of Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) to further enhance safety measures.

  • ADS-B Out For Collision Avoidance

    ADS-B Out, also known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, is a fascinating technology that empowers aircraft to transmit their exact position, altitude, and velocity data to other planes and ground stations.

    This allows for improved tracking of aircraft and heightened situational awareness, aiding in the prevention of collisions by providing real-time information on nearby planes.

    By utilizing ADS-B, both pilots and air traffic controllers have access to comprehensive and accurate data, which can help to enable better decision-making, creating safer and more efficient flights.

 Garmin GDL 52

Garmin GDL 52 Portable SiriusXM, AHRS, ADS-B Receiver

Aviation technology is ever-changing, and the electronics landscape that is supported by satellite technology is growing by leaps and bounds. One of the most exciting developments is the advent of ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast). With ADS-B "out," aircraft can transmit their GPS position to ATC and other aircraft, making the airspace safer for everyone.

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Studying and understanding aviation history is truly vital for any pilot. By learning from past accidents, we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. A lack of knowledge can have the most hazardous consequences, so it's important to stay informed and follow proper safety measures.

This includes clear communication with ATC and properly acknowledging instructions instead of just saying "affirmative."

Air safety and avoiding a potential collision relies on collaboration between regulators, ATC, and pilots to keep our skies safe. Wishing you smooth and happy flying!

Learn more about how to prevent accidents

The most effective approach to dealing with accidents is to learn how to avoid them beforehand. These guides are specifically created to help pilots increase their understanding of preventive measures and enhance the overall safety of flying.

Did you find this article helpful?

Do you think we missed anything important? Let us know in the comments below!

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