Air turbulence causing crashes?

NewAviator Guest

After several 12-hour int'l flights, I wondered if there have been any documentation of airplane crashes due to severe turbulences during flight.

One time i was flying to shanghai from SFO and i guess we hit a low pressure area or something but the plane suddenly dropped, it felt like your seat just disappeared and then the plane was moving quite violently from left to right. There were a few small screams from frightened passengers. And i was quite scared too.

Anyways, what exactly are turbulences? I guess it won't really cause crashes if the plane is built real solid, unless it's like 30 years old.

9 Responses

Pro Member Chief Captain
Matthew Shope (mypilot) Chief Captain

It's like up-drafts and down-drafts. You have an option in the weather secton to choose to have turbulence. Usually the bigger planes don't get affected with it as much. I don't exactly know what causes turbulence though. Maybe somebody else can clarify that for you.

Pro Member Captain
WarHawk42 Captain

If you are near the ground like on landing and you encounter what is called wind sheer it can and has been deadly. Updrafts and downdrafts are not uncommon and with altitude usually are harmless. In the most severe cases it can cause a sudden loss of control but usually not deadly. Altitude is your friend.🙂

Turbulence is simply what it says. Disturbed air. Probably most common around a warm air and cold air mass meeting but not limited to that. Terrain can also be a factor in creating turbulence if you are flying near the terrain in question.

Don Wood Guest

Unfortunately, these incidents happen with some regularity. Typically, it involves general aviation aircraft but it has also occurred with airliners and with military aircraft.

The most severe example is flying into a thunderstorm and the severe turbulence causing airframe separation. Clear air turbulance also causes passenger injuries occasionally and is a good reason to keep your seat belt fastened whenever you are not up walking around.

Severe turbulance can also cause pilot incapacitation if the pilot is not very snugly belted in his/her seat. I have been in severe enough turbulance over the Rockies that even snugly belted in, my head was hitting the side ceiling of the cockpit (in a C-172). Had I not been wearing my Dave Clark headset that cushioned the strikes, I am convinced I could have been knocked out.

Wind shear is a slightly different situation than turbulence. It typically occurs close to the ground and involves a plane flying into the wind on final suddenly encountering a drastic shift in wind direction. That changes the relative airspeed of the the plane and, if severe enough, can cause the wings to stall before the pilot recognizes the situation and adds power. Heavier airplanes are more susceptible to this than lighter and there were a number of wind shear induced airline crashes before shear detectors became common at commercial airports.

The worst example of a turbulance induced crash with an airline I can recall is the Delta flight into Dallas 20 years or so ago. The accident board found the probable cause was a downward microburst from a thunderstorm when the plane was on final. The microburst slammed the plane into the ground and in its ground slide, it hit a large storage tank and was destroyed.

Another turbulance induced crash scenerio that still happens occasionally is upset and crash caused by following a heavy aircraft too closely on landing and encountering the wing tip vortices coming off the plane. The heavier the leading plane, the worse vortex turbulance there is. That's why the ATC separation standards are higher for airliners than for smaller airplanes and still higher for airliners identified as "Heavy".

NewAviator Guest

ahhh, now I feel much safer flying 550mph at 37000 feet! 😉

Pro Member First Officer
leadfoot First Officer

I read an article in Flying magazine a few years ago about a pair of military craft heading west from the east coast for Wright Patterson AFB back in the forties. A P-47, and a B-24 liberator. They both flew into a thunderstorm over central Ohio, you want turbulence! Back then the military didn't think a T-storm was all that dangerous. T-storm penetration was common back then. The B-24 made it--- barely. As the B-24 taxied to the tarmac it was hemmoraging fuel from its belly like a seive. Upon inspection by the ground crew it was found to have suffered severe sructural damage to the wing spars and surrounding airframe rupturing fuel tanks and lines in the process. I doubt the B-24 flew again. The P-47 was another story altogether. It never made it. They found the fuselage and the dead pilot in a field 20 miles or so east of the airbase the next day,---- two weeks later they found the wings in another field more than a hundred miles north of where they found the fuselage. Can turbulence kill? I read an NTSB report from the late 70s that tells of a DC-9 flying through a hailshaft in a T-storm at 14000' over the Carolinas. The cockpit windshields were gone of course, killed one pilot in the process--- talk about being stoned to death, both engines were drowned out--- and huffed by the hail damage. The plane crash landed in a field shortly afterword. There were a number of fatalities. Can turbulence kill? Yes. Just recently a JAL 747 was heading towards the States and hit a big airpocket, it was severe enough to literally bounce one passenger off the ceiling so hard it flat broke his neck and killed him. Needless to say the 747 turned back.

Pro Member Chief Captain
tomthetank Chief Captain

Aircraft cause wake turbulance,they are said to be like mini tornados comming from the wing,and can be several miles long
Thats 1 reason we have to wait for the aircraft in front of us to be so far ahead on take off
Im not sure whether wake turbulance has actually been proven to have brought a aircraft down,it has played a part

I recall a American Airlines Airbus (300 I think) had just taken off behind a JAL 747 when the pilots reported wake turbulance and a couple of mins later the aircraft lost its tail and dived in to the ground(Im sure Ive seen a TV prog about this)

Also remember seeing aircraft tests of 1 aircraft flying with smoke trails and a 737(I think) following a few miles back.flying through the smoke to try and work out why another aircraft had gone down

Small comfort

Pro Member Chief Captain
tomthetank Chief Captain
Pro Member Chief Captain
tomthetank Chief Captain

Found a summary of the TV programme ➡

Pro Member Chief Captain
Jonathan (99jolegg) Chief Captain

Great links, thanks TTT 😀

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