July 17, 2020.   Calendar and Coincidence.

Seventeenth of July. I’m unsure what has caused the forces of darkness to conspire against such an innocuous-seeming day on the calendar, but July 17th happens to be the anniversary of four — four! — major airline crashes.

The first and most infamous of them, in 1996, was the TWA 800 disaster. Bound from New York to Paris, the 747 fell into the ocean near Long Island after a short circuit ignited vapors in the jet’s center fuel tank, which was empty at the time. All 230 passengers and crew were killed.

On the same day in 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russia militiamen who mistook the jet for a military plane. All 298 passengers and crew are killed, making it the seventh-deadliest aviation disaster in history.

The other two aren’t as well remembered…

On July 17th, 2007, an Airbus A320 operated by the Brazilian carrier TAM overshot the runway at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport and slammed into a warehouse. With 199 fatalities, including twelve people in the building, this remains the deadliest crash ever in South America. I used to lay over in Sao Paulo all the time, and the ride from Guarulhos airport to our hotel used to pass Congonhas along the Avenue Washington Luis — directly past the spot where the TAM flight impacted, at the time still covered up with plywood barriers.

Last on the list is one that I barely remembered even after Googling it: the crash of Alliance Air flight 7412 in Patna, India, in 2000. Sixty people people died when the 737 crashed into a busy neighborhood during its approach.

Crashes three and four were the result of pilot error. The TAM pilots botched a landing on a stubby runway during a rainstorm, and the Alliance pilots stalled while maneuvering to land. The MH17 catastrophe resulted from a very different kind of human negligence, while TWA 800 owed its fate to mechanical failure on an aging aircraft. As a result of the TWA crash, commercial jets are now equipped with systems that pump inert nitrogen into their empty fuel tanks.

I’m flying to Amsterdam later tonight. Wish me luck?

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