Aviation English

478335883On 27th March 1977, in very foggy conditions at Los Rodeos airport in Tenerife, and after numerous unexpected incidents and delays, KLM Flight 4805, laden with fuel – and before it was safe to do so – began to hurtle down the runway. Miscommunication in English between the crew and the tower had resulted in the captain starting the take-off before the clearance to do so had actually been given. Ahead of Flight 4805 on the very same runway, taxiing directly towards them, was another Boeing 747, Pan Am Flight 1736, lost in the thickening fog and unsure whether the Spanish air traffic controllers had told them to take the ‘first’ or the ‘third’ exit. The poor visibility meant that the impending disaster was completely hidden from view at the tower, and that accurate and unambiguous oral communication was therefore paramount; the ear had to do what the eye could not. Seconds later the two aircraft finally saw one another. The KLM tried to lift off, the Pan Am to turn, but by then it was too late. The resulting collision and ensuing fireball killed all 248 people aboard the KLM plane as well as 335 of the 396 aboard the Pan American, making it the deadliest ever disaster in aviation history. The few Pan Am survivors, lucky alone by the fluke of their seating, crawled out to safety through holes in the disintegrating fuselage and along the one remaining wing. Continue reading