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HEAVY TOLL

More than 1,000 people have died in Asian passenger airline crashes in the last five years

A New Zealand Air Force aircraft searches for MH370.
Reuters/Rob Griffith/Pool
A New Zealand Air Force aircraft searches for MH370.
  • Tripti Lahiri
By Tripti Lahiri

Asia bureau chief

This article is more than 2 years old.

Airline travel is safer than ever. Given the large number of people who fly each year—some four billion passengers in 2017 compared to about 1.5 billion 20 years ago—the risk of any single person dying in a commercial air crash has fallen dramatically. And yet, when there’s a deadly accident, like today’s crash of Indonesian budget flight Lion Air JT610, it doesn’t feel that way. Flight JT610 crashed in the waters off Indonesian capital Jakarta less than 15 minutes after takeoff, with all 189 passengers and crew on board believed dead.

The last five years have been troubling ones for Asian passenger airlines, with a number of major deadly air crashes, including four in 2014 alone. Excluding military flights, and not counting smaller fatal accidents that took place over the period, these air disasters killed more than 1,000 people, including those on JT610. In some cases, the exact cause of the disaster will never be known.

  • US-Bangla Flight 211: The private carrier making a one-hour journey from Dhaka to Kathmandu on March 12, 2018, crashed at the Nepal capital’s airport, killing 51 of the 71 on board. Authorities attributed the crash to the pilot’s ”tremendous personal mental stress.”
  • Pakistan Airlines Flight 661: A domestic flight headed for capital city Islamabad on Dec. 7, 2016 crashed during the one-hour flight, killing all 48 on board. Aviation officials first attributed the cause of the accident to engine failure. Later officials said they would exhume bodies of the crew to test for poison or intoxicants, but it’s unclear whether that actually happened.
  • TransAsia Airways Flight 235: Investigators said voice recordings showed the crash of the domestic Taiwanese flight on Feb. 4, 2015 was due to human error, with the pilot pulling the wrong throttle. The crash killed 43 of the 48 people on board.
  • AirAsia Flight 8501: Carrying 162 people on Dec. 28, 2014 on its way to Indonesia to Singapore, Flight 8501 disappeared over the Java Sea. Plane debris was found a few days later, and sonar images appeared to show the aircraft lying on the ocean floor. The bodies of nine passengers were recovered. Indonesian investigation findings said pilot response to a malfunction caused cascading electronic failures that led to the crash. Records showed the aircraft had problems on nearly two dozen occasions that year.
  • TransAsia Airways Flight GE 222: The domestic Taiwanese flight with 58 people on board crashed as it was making a second landing attempt in the middle of heavy rain on July 23, 2014, killing 48 people. Ten survived.
  • Malaysian Airlines Flight 17: Flight 17 was carrying 298 people, including 80 children, when it broke up in the air after being hit by a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine on its way from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. International investigators believe the missile was fired by pro-Russian separatist fighters.
  • Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: Flight MH370 disappeared from radar two hours after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, carrying 239 passengers and crew (paywall) for a scheduled 6:30am arrival in Beijing. Its disappearance prompted a multi-nation search of nearly 50,000 square miles of ocean, and a number of theories, given that large-scale wreckage wasn’t spotted. Only a few pieces of aircraft debris were ever found, and the cause of the flight’s disappearance remains a mystery. The people who were on board are presumed dead.

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