Tenerife: Deadliest Air Accident - INFERNO

INFERNO (Illustration) Famous Historical Events Geography History Social Studies Aviation & Space Exploration STEM Tragedies and Triumphs World History Disasters

This still shot, from historical footage recorded at the scene of the Tenerife disaster, depicts Pan Am 1736 after it was struck by KLM 4805. Both planes were fully loaded with fuel at the time of the collision. 


After striking the Pan Am jet, 4805's landing gear sheared off. Information from flight data recorders (also called "the black box") tell what happened next.

The KLM 747 dropped back to the runway about 500 feet from impact and skidded another 1,000 feet, sliding to the right and rotating clockwise 90 degrees. As soon as it stopped, a violent fire engulfed the whole wreckage, utterly disintegrating the plane.  No one escaped the inferno.

Seventy people were able to get out of the Pan Am plane, although nine died later.  Most made it to the left wing, then jumped to the ground from there. 

When tower personnel heard the explosion, they thought terrorists had blown up a fuel truck. Not until they received reports of fire on the airport's runway did they realize the explosion (this link contains an on-the-scene BBC audio/visual report) must have been from a plane.

Fire and rescue personnel had difficulty making their way through the congested, foggy airport. After they found the KLM plane completely engulfed in flames, rescue workers noticed another fire down the runway. They believed they saw burning parts from the same plane. Not until fire personnel reached the Pan Am plane did they realize the magnitude of the disaster. The inferno was not completely extinguished until the next day.

The Tenerife crash still stands as the world’s worst aviation accident. Five hundred eighty-three (583) people died. Seven of the 16 Pan Am crew survived, including Captain Grubbs.

The Spanish government found that Captain van Zanten was responsible. The Dutch investigation also assigned responsibility to Tenerife’s controllers. The official Spanish investigation also reports that:

It was not possible to perform autopsies on the members of the KLM crew on account of the state of the bodies.

Captain van Zanten’s scream was the last thing recorded on the cockpit voice recorder. All of the KLM evacuation doors remained sealed. A likely explanation? There was either no time to attempt escape or no possibility to even try.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: May 18, 2019

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"INFERNO" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2006. Jan 26, 2020.
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