It all started bizarrely but innocuously enough on August 2, 2005 -- the day Air France flight 358 crash-landed amidst severe weather in Toronto, Canada, trundled off the end of a runway and burst into flames. All 309 people aboard the plane were saved in what media accounts of the accident called a "miracle".
Then it looked as if luck ran out for the airline industry: over the following six weeks at least 470 people were killed in five worldwide plane crashes, and August 2005 became the deadliest month in the history of commercial aviation. The incidents have re-ignited a worldwide debate over commonalities between crashes and what, if anything, should be done about them.
The August 2 Air France "miracle" was followed by an August 6 crash of a Tunisian charter plane into the sea near Sicily, killing at least 13. On August 9, a West Caribbean Airways flight from Panama to Martinique went down in remote Venezuela, killing all 152 aboard. On August 14, a Cypriot plane operated by Helios Airways plummeted near Athens, killing all 121 passengers. On August 23, a tans jet crashed into the Peruvian mountains during a heavy storm, killing 43. Finally, on September 5 a Mandala Airlines flight plunged immediately after takeoff into a heavily populated area of Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city, killing 103 of 117 passengers and 47 more on the ground.
Worldwide safety records are not monolithic, however, and regions like Europe, the us, and Australia are far better than Africa, Asia, and some former Soviet countries. Further, while the ratio of fatalities to flights has continued to fall, the raw numbers of both have increased.
While such a situation is clearly unacceptable, the recent tragedies -- shocking as they may be -- don't back contentions of systemic failure. A detailed report of the International Aviation Safety Association (iasa), an international watchdog, concluded that "there is no underlying seasonal factor nor identifiable trend. Indeed the recent spate of accidents appears to run almost the entire gamut of known pitfalls." Although the report took the opportunity to urge that international safety audits be standardised, the only commonality iasa found in all the accidents was a range of human error -- mistakes committed by experienced veterans.
Other studies by icao, the bbc and others have all come to the same conclusion: according to what's currently known, 2005's air tragedies will be little more than a statistical "blip" on the air travel safety screen.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.