In all, 583 people were killed. Just 61 survived.
Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the deadliest aviation disaster in history, when two jumbo jets collided on March 27, 1977. It happened on the small Spanish island of Tenerife, off the coast of West Africa.
The events, coincidences and errors that led to the accident are almost too incredible to believe. An act of terror at a different airport, miscommunication, weather and pilot error all played important roles. And amazingly, it all happened on the ground.
Four decades ago, Tenerife, the largest of the pristine, quiet Spanish Canary Islands, was suddenly home to the worst airline disaster the world had ever seen, both then and now.
“Historically, it’s an accident with an almost mythical kind of aura around it,” said Patrick Smith, a commercial airline pilot and author who has studied Tenerife extensively. “Where that comes from, I think, is partly the bizarre cascading series of ironies and coincidences that led to it happening, beginning with the fact that neither of these two planes was supposed to be at Tenerife in the first place.”