Investigations are continuing into the crash of the Dash 8 aircraft in New York State on Thursday. All 49 people on board were killed plus one man on the ground. It could have been much worse, though. The local emergency co-ordinator commented: "It's remarkable that it only took one house, as devastating as that was. It could have easily wiped out that entire neighbourhood.”
We do not know yet how far the skill of the pilot was a factor in averting an even greater disaster, but it certainly has been in a number of other cases. When two aircraft collided over the Indian town of Charkhi Dadri in 1996 in the worst mid-air crash in history, eye-witnesses praised the crew of a Saudi Arabian aircraft for managing to steer the jet in its dying moments away from people’s homes so that it came down in a field, where it dug a trench 60 yards long. Everyone on board was killed, but there were no casualties on the ground.
Mercifully, the world’s five worst air crashes in terms of the number killed on board caused no deaths on the ground. One of the worst accidents for ground casualties came in August 1944 when a USAF Liberator bomber crashed on the village of Freckleton in Lancashire. 58 people were killed in the village, including 38 children in the local school.
Of course on 9/11, when four aircraft were hi-jacked with the deliberate aim of crashing them, the death toll was much higher – more than 2,700 on the ground, as well as over 250 on the airliners, while the Pan-Am jumbo blown up above Lockerbie killed 11 people on the ground.