Airline, an organization that provides daily public service of air transportation on single or multiple routes. So what happens if these routes provided at the airport were to somehow be the cause of having 2 planes crash into another? Is it the airline’s fault, the tower control room’s fault or is it the pilot and his crew’s fault? To begin with, the travel on air idea was inspired long ago and many fatal mistakes were to be made to reach this point where airplanes are a common method of transport that is done in day to day bases. It all started back when a man known as abbas bin firnas, a Spanish man who wanted to fly just like birds, sadly he ended up jumping of a mountain with his small machine that he created and died but this lead to a chain of inventors to pass on his hard work and reach where we are today. We will be going through the Tenerife airport disaster to discuss this dilemma as an example that changed the history of airlines and the precautions that they started to implement in the future, where 2 huge aircrafts crashed into another and caused many casualties and economic damage. It is normal for humans to make mistakes, some people might argue but this is no ordinary mistake. It was a series of mistakes that lead to one tremendous catastrophe. How could this have been avoided and how could we prevent this madness from happening again? Everything will soon be unveiled and clear. Before we dive deep into the topic, I’d like to give a personal solution from my side that this happened because the pilot didn’t wait for the right signal that would give him the go sign to take off and instead rushed the plane to take off so I’d like to advise people that sometimes not doing anything is the best thing to do.
The Tenerife airport disaster which occurred in March 27, 1977. The PAN-AM flight 1736 was flying from New York City to Gran Canaria in the Canary Island over the Atlantic Ocean. The flight originated at LA and in command of the plane was captain Voctor Grubbs of age 56 and he astonishingly has 21,403 hours of flying time, the co-pilot is first officer Robert Bragg of age 39 and has a decent 10,800 hours of flying time, never the less there also was a flight engineer, second officer George warns of age 46 and has an above average of 16,210 flying time. On that plane there were 380 passengers and 16 crew members. The plane was named Clipper Victor which is a 7 year old Boeing. This aircraft was notable for conducting Boeing 747’s very first commercial flight on August 2, 1970, Clipper Victor was also involved in the Boeing 747’s first hijacking, the hijacking forced the plane to land in Cuba where the aircraft was met by the former prime minister Fidel Castro, this also made it the first 747 to land in Cuba. A few miles away, the KLM flight 4805 was flying from Amsterdam and was coincidentally heading for Gran Canaria. However in this plane, in command is captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten of age 50 he was KLM’s chief flying instructor, this man was every pilots idol and everyone wanted to be like him, he had also appeared in multiple KLM advertisement campaigns and he has a nice 11,700 hours of flying time, the co-pilot is first officer Klaas Meurs of age 42 and has a decent 9200 hours of flying time and the flight engineer is second officer Willem Schreuder, age 48 and he was a principle founder as well as the first president of the European flight engineer’s organization and he has an above average 15,210 hours of flying time. 235 passengers and 14 crew members had boarded the plane. The plane was called RIJN and it was a 5 year old Boeing. This was what was happening in air so far, meanwhile in the airport at 1:15 pm to the exact, a bomb detonates at the terminal of Gran Canaria airport. Thankfully no causalities were taken but this resulted in injuring one person. What’s interesting was that there was a phone call as a warning of the bomb before it exploded, later on , a second phone call was received that claimed of a second bomb that was about to explode. The authorities then decided to close the airport for good and change all incoming flights and divert them to Los Rodeos, which is another airport in Tenerife. The air traffic controllers then went ahead to inform both flight 1736 and 4805 of the current situation and gave clear instructions to change their route to Los Rodeos. The pilots of flight 1736 informs the ATC that they intend to circle until the airport reopens but the request gets immediately denied with no hesitation. Now, Los Rodeos was a small regional airport that had only one runway, one major taxiway and several minor taxiways that connected the two. The airport wasn’t designed to handle large aircrafts such as the Boeing 747. In total, 5 large aircrafts get diverted to Los Rodeos causing the place to stack up. Back to the notorious captain Van Zanten he requested that his passengers would be offloaded to the terminal while they wait, the request then gets approved. On the other side however, captain Grubbs makes the same request but the request gets shut down because the terminal would already be filled. Flight 1734’s passengers are however allowed on to the tarmac at least. The pilots of flight 4805 were starting to worry about a new company policy that prevents them from exceeding their company flying time limit which will cause them to probably get their license taken away from them, hence this will ruin their career. Until and unless Gran Canaria reopens soon, they will be forced to exceed their flying limit and if that happens the flight will have to be postponed until a new set of pilots are flown all the way from Amsterdam to Tenerife as a replacement. A few hours later it starts to drizzle, so to make use of the time being stuck at Los Rodeos the pilots decided to refuel their airplane tank, they did this so they wouldn’t have to waste precious flying time refueling at Gran Canaria. Several minutes later Gran Canaria is finally available. Captain Van Zanten goes ahead and orders all of his passengers back on board of flight 4805, it has still not finished refueling. First officer Bragg asks the Dutch pilots how long will their refueling take. Captain Van Zanten tells them that the refueling would at least take half an hour. Captain Grubbs tries to go around the KLM plane but he is unable due to lack of 12 feet of clearance. One of KLM’s passenger decided to leave the flight and stay at Tenerife since she lives there and has a boyfriend living there as well. Flight 4805 is done refueling but now a search for a Dutch family of four causes a further delay. The long delay will mean that flight 4805 will only have 2 hours left before the flight is grounded. Just past 5 pm, flight 4805 is instructed to taxi down the entire length of the runway. A dashing dense blooming fog has now covered the airport entirely which made sight difficult in a radius of a few hundred meters. The tower now orders flight 1736 to follow flight 4805 before exiting the runway using taxiway charly-3 first. Officer Bragg contacted the TFN tower to affirm that they should leave the runway at c3 and because of the thick fog both the aircrafts were not visible to the TFN. Here is when things get tricky, flight 4805 got instructions from the TFN tower to make a 180-degree turn at the end of the runway and report ready for the ATC clearance, then the tower instructs flight 4805 to do a backtrack which is when you use a runway as a taxiway. When they finally reached the end of the runway, flight 1736 has now reached Charlie two and when the flight reached the exit c 3 runway the KLM flight was done backtracking immediately after lining up, Captain van Zanten proceeds to advance the throttles, then a spark occurred to the first officer Meurs and told Van Zanten that they don’t have the ATC clearance, Van Zanten then responds arrogantly by saying “I knew that go ahead and ask”. Meurs asks for clearance as he says the plane is ready for take-off and they were waiting for the ATC clearance. The TFN tower tells them that after take-off they should do certain instructions but they never made it clear that the runway was clear, Van Zanten was taken over by frustration and fear of losing his license and immediately pulled the throttles but this time no one spoke up as it would have been a potential offense to their senior. As the plane moved faster it got closer to the other plane and at the last second as the Pan Am plane turned towards the left while Robert Braggs yelled, “Damn that son of a Bitch!”, the Pan am plane turned to the left avoiding the cockpit area from danger but the rest was history as the KLM plane Collides with the Pan am plane as it attempted to take off from Los Rodeos airport. Everyone on board flight 4805 were killed and 355 people from flight 1736 were also killed only 56 passengers 2 flight attendants and the 3 pilots survive with 583 fatalities. This crash was the deadliest aviation accident of all time. Originally KLM wanted Van Zanten to investigate this incident but later it was found out that he was the main pilot involved in this incident.
At first I was stuck between 2 stools not knowing the real cause of this massacre but there are some speculations that made me think that Van Zanten was the main antagonist who was responsible for this disaster since he was in such a hurry to leave and didn’t listen carefully to the tower and double checked, but in my opinion I think that the real culprit here is rigid enforcement of flight time regulations. Had there been an exception for unforeseen circumstances, then captain Van Zanten would not have been in such a hurry. However, this is just a very coincidental series of bad luck that sensible beings wouldn’t possibly believe if it were not to be proven or is it a coincidence? To begin with, it started with the bomb explosions that caused a lot of delay and route changing, the new company policy of not exceeding fly time, the tower operators that were confused, the pilot crew that were confused and frustrated in a hurry to not exceed the fly time and finally the bad foggy weather. It was also discovered that this was Van Zanten’s first flight in 3 months as he would usually be assigned to train pilots in the flight simulator and apparently when they went through the recording from both the flights, there was a lot of interrupted signals happening and the KLM flight heard only the word “ok” When asked for clearance. All this lead to a massive disaster that made airlines take extra precautions from that day onwards such as training pilots to socialize with each other. I might be a little bit empathetic here since any pilot in his situation wouldn’t want his license taken away but when Van Zanten pulled the throttles for the first time, the co-pilot told him that they needed a clearance but when he pulled it the second time no one spoke up, this could have possibly been from the lack of confidence and high respect in an order of hierarchy. Nowadays pilots are required to have social skills as well, to avoid such errors. Many adjustments were also made to the plane model as the reason why they didn’t exit the runway at c-4 was because the airplane couldn’t do such high level degree turns. Also not to forget to mention that while it was drizzling captain Van Zanten was refueling the plane so that later on he wouldn’t bother to refuel it, which cause an increase in the mass of the plane which if it were not there, the plane would have flew and avoided crashing the plane. Sometimes the best thing to do is to not do anything.