Shadowed Wings: The DC-10’s History of Accidents

Accidents to Remember: The DC-10 and the Deadliest Period in Aviation History

3 mins read

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 served as the backbone of long-haul operations before the introduction of ETOPS certifications, providing airlines with smaller aircraft options for transoceanic flights. However, despite its rapid design process, the DC-10 is predominantly remembered for the numerous incidents it was involved in, resulting in 32 hull loss accidents and over 1,200 passenger fatalities.

Notable accidents such as Air New Zealand Flight 901, American Airlines Flight 96, United Airlines Flight 232, American Airlines Flight 191, and Turkish Airlines Flight 981 underscore the issues associated with the DC-10. After its maiden flight on August 29th, 1970, the DC-10 quickly became indispensable for intercontinental travel, forming the backbone of many long-haul airline fleets. Despite its innovative features, the DC-10’s initial poor safety record and involvement in multiple accidents tarnished its reputation. According to the Aviation Safety Network, the type was involved in 32 hull loss accidents, resulting in over 1,200 fatalities.

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Today, we will examine five of the most notable accidents involving the DC-10:

1. Turkish Airlines Flight 981: The 1974 crash of this flight was the deadliest single-aircraft accident at the time. The aircraft crashed into the Ermenonville Forest outside Paris, leading to significant lawsuits against McDonnell Douglas by the families of the 346 victims.

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OTD in 1979: American Airlines Flight 191, a DC-10, crashes on takeoff from O’Hare (Chicago, US). All 271 aboard plus 2 on the ground die, deadliest airliner crash in US. Engine separated from wing due to improper maintenance, damaging hydraulics and causing loss of control.

2. American Airlines Flight 191: In 1979, a DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Improper maintenance procedures regarding the aircraft’s engines and pylons were determined to be the cause.

A TUA McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 on an airport apron.

3. Air New Zealand Flight 901: In 1979, a DC-10 collided with Mount Erebus in Antarctica during a non-scheduled sightseeing flight. Pilot error was attributed to this accident, further damaging the DC-10’s reputation.

4. UTA Flight 772: In 1989, this DC-10 became involved in the fourth deadliest accident in DC-10 history. The aircraft was bombed while en route from N’Djamena, Chad, to Paris, France.

An American Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flying in the sky.

5. United Airlines Flight 232: In 1989, a DC-10 crashed at Sioux Gateway Airport while attempting an emergency landing due to a severe failure in its tail engine. This incident marked the deadliest single accident in United Airlines’ history.

These tragic accidents left lasting scars on the operational history of the DC-10. Do you recall any of these crashes? Let us know in the comments!


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