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Deadliest Plane Crash, The

Program Overview


Note: This program contains graphic information about two planes that crashed into each other and the lives that were lost. Please preview it to determine its appropriateness for your classroom.

Cockpit NOVA investigates what can be learned from the worst aviation accident in history—the 1977 crash on the Spanish island of Tenerife that killed 583 people.

The program:

  • reviews information about the two 747 jets involved in the crash—a KLM flight from the Netherlands and a Pan Am flight out of Los Angeles, both bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

  • relates how Las Palmas controllers began diverting airplanes when a bomb exploded at the airport.

  • notes how both 747s were diverted to, and landed at, Los Rodeos airport on the island of Tenerife.

  • recounts the personal story of three young tour guides on board the KLM jet who lived and worked in Tenerife.

  • details the series of events that occurred leading up to the crash.

  • provides accounts from surviving Pan Am passengers about what it felt like when their plane was hit by the departing KLM flight.

  • explores the reasons for how and why the crash occurred, including why the KLM pilot took off without proper clearance.

  • notes that runway incursions—when a vehicle is on the runway when it should not be—occur in the United States with surprising regularity.

  • reports on air safety improvements that have been made and others that are being tested to help avoid accidents.

  • concludes with remarks from survivors about how their lives have been affected by the 1977 crash.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Deadliest Plane Crash, The