Artistic close up of airline pilot

Air Disasters

Harrowing stories of tragedy and triumph are brought to life through official reports, transcripts and interviews with the pilots, air traffic controllers, and survivors of history's most terrifying crashes. Widely considered to be the safest form of travel, air transportation is still in its infancy and when midair calamity strikes, the results are often catastrophic. From the cockpit to the cabin, from the control room to the crash scene, we uncover what went wrong, then reveal what's being done to ensure these atrocities never happen again.

On TV

    • Today
    • 8:00pm
    Feb 01
    • Today
    • 9:00pm
    Feb 01
    • Today
    • 10:00pm
    Feb 01
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Seasons

Season 5

  • Into the Eye of the Storm

    See how hurricane hunters stay airborne despite faulty radar, a failed engine, and a category 5 monster.

  • Queens Catastrophe

    Follow investigators as they race to determine if a November 2001 Queens plane crash was an accident or act of terror.

  • Tragedy on the Potomac

    See how extreme conditions, warm-weather pilots, and poor decisions conspired to bring down a Boeing 737 in 1982.

  • Lost in Translation

    Flap malfunction? Cell phone interference? A heavy sedative? What brought down Crossair Flight 498?

  • Speed Trap

    Join NTSB and military experts as they work together to uncover how a fighter jet could collide with a civilian flight.

  • Fight to the Death

    Can a generation gap actually cause a catastrophic air disaster? Witness the story of BEA Flight 548.

Season 4

  • Pilots in darkened cockpit checking instruments

    Vanished

    On June 1, 2009, a modern Airbus A330, traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, vanished somewhere over the Atlantic.

  • Hands holding clear ruler and marker over Spanish topographical map of M?rida, Venezuela

    Seconds to Survive

    Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 518 embarks on a from Merida, Venezuela to Caracas and crashes minutes later.

  • Aircraft coming in for landing; barbed wire fence in foreground

    Subtle Incapacitation

    Five minutes into Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409, something goes wrong.

  • Commercial aircraft flying on angle near trees; red silhouette profile image of plane superimposed in upper left

    Death of the President

    Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M: It was an air disaster that crippled a country, heightened tensions between two nations, and ignited conspiracy theories worldwide.

  • Crash investigators photographing underside of tail

    Hockey Team Tragedy

    A Russian passenger jet crashes into the Volga River, killing almost everyone on board.

  • NTSB investigator with flashlight, at night

    Focused on Failure

    Just minutes before touching down in Portland International Airport, all four engines of a DC-8 mysteriously flame out.

  • Investigators photographing taped-off crash site with debris

    Catastrophe at O'Hare

    It was the deadliest aviation disaster in U.S. history of its time, the 1979 crash of American Airlines Flight 191.

  • Investigator photographing downed plane in Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon

    Two commercial airliners go missing over the Arizona desert, and are later found in pieces, scattered along the Grand Canyon floor.

  • Dazed survivors walk away from burning wreckage in Peru's Amazon Jungle

    Blind Landing

    Join the investigation as examiners use all of their creativity to determine why TANS Peru Flight 204 fell from the sky.

  • Indonesian crash investigators look at small pieces of wreckage near Musi River

    Pushed to the Limit

    It's a clear and calm December day in 1997 when a Boeing 737 suddenly plummets from the sky into an Indonesian jungle.

  • Singapore Airlines aircraft on runway, illuminated at night

    Caution to the Wind

    As a typhoon bears down on Taiwan, Singapore Airlines Flight 006 hurtles down the runway through high winds and rain.

  • Male and female pilots in cockpit, female in foreground

    Fire in the Hold

    The worst aviation disaster in Florida's history occurred on May 11, 1996. ValuJet Flight 592 crashed, killing all 10 aboard.

  • Female flight attendant with oxygen mask on and passengers using yellow masks dropped from cabin ceiling

    Fight for Control

    On June 8, 1983, a Reeve Aleutian Airways Lockheed Electra nearly plunged 19,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean after one of its propellers tore from the aircraft.

Season 3

  • Commercial aircraft with two engines on fire

    Nowhere to Land

    TACA Airlines Flight 110 is in trouble. Just 20 miles from the airport, the engines quit, effectively turning the Boeing 737 into a multi-ton glider.

  • Commercial aircraft hitting tops of trees

    Split Decision

    What was supposed to be a joyous homecoming for the elite 101st Airborne Division ends in a tragic plane crash.

  • Airport investigators with flashlights looking at tarmac in darkness

    Bad Attitude

    Find out why on December 1999, just days before Christmas, Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 crashes after takeoff.

  • Foggy runway in Milan showing Cessna and MD-87 aircraft about to collide

    The Invisible Plane

    A foggy morning in Milan turns deadly when an MD-87, leaving Italy's Linate Airport, collides with a Cessna crossing the same runway.

  • Illustration of commercial aircraft with engines on fire

    Under Pressure

    Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 races back to a Saudi Arabian airport just a few minutes after takeoff. Will the pilots be able to safely land the crippled DC-8?

  • Falling out of control aircraft breaking up over ranchland

    Break Up Over Texas

    In a blink of an eye, a commuter plane carrying 11 passengers from Laredo to Houston plummets to the earth, dropping thousands of feet in mere seconds.

  • Front view of Boeing 747 aircraft

    Turning Point

    More than 35,000 feet above the Bering Sea, the crew of Northwest Airlines Flight 85 are battling with a crippled aircraft.

  • Airline pilot checks gauges

    Impossible Landing

    In July of 1989, halfway through its journey from Denver to Chicago, United Airlines Flight 232 is rocked by an explosion.

  • Commercial airliner out of control over the California hills

    I'm the Problem

    "I'm the problem." These are the last words heard on the cockpit voice recording of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771.

  • Crash investigator in fedora checks icy airplane wing

    Mayday Munich

    Disaster strikes a Munich airport and rocks the sports world when a charter aircraft carrying the Manchester United soccer team crashes.

  • Boeing commercial airliner flying just above and ahead of a Cessna

    Blind Spot

    See how investigators and their findings lead to major changes in aircraft landing procedures after a disaster at San Diego's Lindbergh Airport.

Season 2

  • Commercial aircraft on slick runway at Congonhas Airport in Brazil

    Deadly Reputation

    Runway 35L at Congonhas Airport in Brazil is considered to be one of the most dangerous landing strips in the world. Find out why.

  • Illuminated commercial aircraft takes off in rainstorm at night

    The Plane That Flew Too High

    An overweight plane, an overworked crew, or an overpowering storm? What caused the fatal crash of West Caribbean Airways Flight 708?

  • Commercial airline on runway with fire on underside of aircraft

    Cleared for Disaster

    In 1991, the fatal collision of USAir Flight 1493 and Skywest Flight 5569 sent fear into the hearts of air travelers.

  • Crash investigators check smoldering wreckage in Vosges Mountains

    The Final Blow

    Just minutes from Strasbourg Airport, an Airbus A320 crashes into a vast mountainous region.

  • Pilots in cockpit with close plane visible in window

    System Breakdown

    Take a harrowing journey into the past, aboard five flights doomed by communication breakdowns, and chart the changes these air disasters forced.

  • French investigators sifting through the rubble of Air France Flight 296

    Pilot vs. Plane

    It was supposed to be the pride of France but the Airbus A320 would become a national embarrassment after crashing at an airshow on its maiden passenger flight.

  • Front view of commercial aircraft with white smoke behind it

    Cold Case

    In March of 1992, a commuter plane fails to lift off from a LaGuardia Airport runway and plunges into the icy waters of Flushing Bay.

  • Airline taking off on cloudy day near illuminated light pole

    Alarming Silence

    The loss of life from the 1987 crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was the second greatest loss in the history of US aviation.

  • Commercial aircraft on runway with fire at its back

    Panic on the Runway

    How does a survivable airline emergency turn into one of British aviation's most horrific disasters?

  • Commercial aircraft flying in cloudy skies

    Cruel Skies

    An invisible microburst within a mile of a runway. Volcanic ash 35,000 feet above the Indian Ocean. Relive four pivotal aviation disasters and near misses that ultimately forced the industry to better protect our planes from severe weather encounters.

  • Illustrated map showing plane silhouette and three missiles in a triangular formation, over land marked as USSR

    Target is Destroyed

    In 1983, a downed passenger jet escalates tensions between two superpowers, the US and the USSR, to an all-time high.

  • Seaplane on fire over Miami Beach

    Cracks in the System

    A sunny day in Miami Beach in 2005 turns tragic when a seaplane crashes into the water in front of hundreds of tourists.

Season 1

  • Air traffic controller on corded phone, looking at instruments

    Phantom Strike

    How did a state-of-the-art business plane fail to alert its pilots to the 737 heading straight for it?

  • Worried male pilot and copilot trying to control aircraft

    Fatal Distraction

    It's December 1972 and 163 passengers are flying to Miami to ring in the New Year. Minutes later, aviation's first jumbo jet disaster occurs.

  • Landing gear coming down as plane is landing

    Mixed Signals

    Moments after takeoff, the pilots of Birgenair Flight 301 are baffled by confusing and conflicting signals and alarms.

  • Yellow tape with Asian print in front of tagged evidence from plane crash

    Explosive Evidence

    Join the bizarre and frustrating investigation of Air India Flight 182, reexamined and reassembled through reports, recordings, and expert testimony.

  • Rear view of cockpit with two pilots and windshield with damage from hail

    Southern Storm

    The crew of a DC-9 find themselves in a violent storm.

  • Small commuter plane out of control over Charlotte, North Carolina

    Dead Weight

    Seconds after takeoff, Air Midwest Flight 5481, a small commuter plane leaving Charlotte, N.C., suddenly pitches up, stalls, and crashes to the earth.

  • Angled view of side of commercial aircraft with interior in flames, visible through windows

    Fanning the Flames

    When South African Airways Flight 295 caught fire and crashed at sea in 1987, rumors swirled that it was the target of a terrorist attack.

  • Commercial aircraft with nose down, flying toward wooded area

    Behind Closed Doors

    The crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 981 in Paris in 1974 is the worst air disaster of its time, but why did it happen?

  • Air Canada plane flying over Canadian prairie and Lake Ontario

    Gimli Glider

    Air Canada Flight 143: It was a brand new state-of-the-art 767, a 95-ton flying machine that suddenly lost its ability to fly.

  • Survivor of plane crash in rainstorm

    Invisible Killer

    As the passengers and crew of Flight 191 to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport prepared for landing, a deadly force took shape in their path.

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