A little light reading on the plane

A curious bit of infotainment while on board an Air Portugal flight over the Atlantic. As we glided across the celebrated body of water, our TV screen map included locations and dates of major maritime disasters. The Titanic, of course, is the most famous. But the other ship names included in this map aroused enough curiosity to do a bit more research when I reached dry ground.

Only two years after the Titanic disaster, The RMS Empress of Ireland collided with a the Norwegian Storstad, resulting in 1,012 deaths. Percentage-wise, it is a higher mortality rate than the Titanic. What is truly tragic about this incident is that the ship sank in the relatively calm and shallow waters of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Canada. And the Storstad remained afloat and was on hand to help rescue passengers and crew. But the hull of the Empress was sliced open in the accident, causing the vessel to take on water so rapidly that it capsized and sank within 14 minutes. Reportedly, open portholes contributed to the rapid flooding.

I remember stories of the Andrea Dora shipwreck as a kid but, did not know the details. Apparently, this gem of the Italian shipbuilding industry collided with the MS Stockholm in 1956. (What is it with these Scandinavian sailors, anyway?) Forty-six people perished off the coast of Massachusetts. But it could have been a lot worse, considering it had a total of 1,700 passengers and crew.

The U.S.S. Thresher submarine disaster of 1963 remains a mystery, 55 years after its sinking off the coast of Massachusetts. What is known is that all 129 crew members died as the hull imploded under immense pressure while plunging to a depth of 8,000 feet.

Not included in the Air Portugal map was an even more recent nuclear submarine disaster involving the Russian Dursk. The entire crew of 118 perished in the sinking in 2000. (Technically, this occurred in the Barents Sea, a body of water just north of the Atlantic and just south of the Arctic Ocean, but, hey, close enough for my book.)


Up in the Air

Not surprisingly, the Air Portugal map did not include major air disasters in and around the Atlantic, but here’s a few of the more notable ones:

Tenerife, Canary Islands, 1977. This collision of two 747s on a runway is still the largest air disaster in history, resulting in 583 fatalities.

Pan Am 103, better known as the Lockerbie Bombing, took the lives of all 243 passengers in 1988 when terrorists blew the plane up on takeoff. The flight was bound for Detroit via The Pond.

In 1996, TWA 800 exploded on takeoff from JFK, killing 230 people as the aircraft plunged into the Atlantic just south of Long Island.

Air France 4590 was bound for New York City from Paris on a hot July day in the year 2000. But debris on the runway punctured a tire and a fuel tank, resulting in the horrific calamity that cost 109 people their lives. This was the only accident involving the commercial super-sonic transport in its 27-year history. But it was also the last, as the joint venture between the French and British owners grounded the plane from that day on.

The only one I recall from the South Atlantic is also the most recent: Air France 447, en route from Brazil to France. In 2009, the craft plunged uncontrollably into the waters, killing all 228 aboard. Analysis of the accident concluded that ice crystals caused the autopilot to malfunction. When the pilots reacted. they over-corrected, sending the plane into an uncontrollable dive.

There’s more, of course, but these are the most notable.

Hashtagging #AirPortugal in case they want to add some new data to their infotainment maps.

And, hey, if you are reading this at the airport, have a safe flight!

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