Mayday

About the show

Statistically, traveling by airplane is safer than driving and other forms of transportation, but when something goes wrong during a flight, it can be catastrophic with potentially hundreds of lives at stake. This series examines some of the world's worst air disasters, using official reports, transcripts and interviews with people involved to tell the stories of midair mishaps and discover what went wrong in each case. 

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Upcoming episodes

Sep 29th
200a

Falling From the Sky

"June 24, 1982 - On a clear summer night, during a seemingly calm trip to Australia, the impossible happens to British Airways Flight 009. Smoke starts filling the cabin. The engines catch fire – then stop working. The flight crew witness a bizarre shower of brilliant sparks strike the windshield of the aircraft. The entire plane is surrounded by a shimmering white glow. Without power, the plane begins falling from the sky. Passengers are terrified. The crew have no idea why their engines have quit – or how to get them working again. As they fall through the night the captain faces a difficult choice – return to the nearest airport and likely crash into the mountains, or attempt an incredibly difficult ocean landing. Just minutes before crashing into the sea, the stricken plane’s engines roar back to life. The jet limps back to Halim airport in Jakarta. But the crew realizes that their windshield is severely damaged -- making it nearly to impossible to see their runway. After suffering through a night of bizarre twists and turns, they manage to touch down safely at Halim. But they are still bewildered -- what had knocked their plane from the sky? What investigators discover changed the way pilots are trained and altered the understanding of how volcanoes can affect aviation."
Sep 29th
300a

Fire Fight

"In June of 1983, a small mechanical problem in the back of an Air Canada DC-9 quickly turned into an all-out emergency 10 kilometers in the air. The aircraft was travelling to Toronto from Dallas when passengers noticed smoke coming from the rear washroom. As the smoke grows thicker, the crew has no choice but attempt to land the plane. For fifteen hellish minutes, passengers and crew struggle to deal with the thick toxic smoke. When the plane finally hits the runway in Cincinnati, all on board struggle to exit the burning plane as quickly as possible.Ninety seconds after touching the ground, the plane is engulfed in a ball of fire. Twenty-three of the forty-six people perish; the pilot is the last one to make it out alive. It takes emergency workers hours to control the blaze.Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on the scene within an hour. They uncover a long history of problems with this DC-9, including a previous explosive decompression that may have damaged vital wiring. While the cause of the fire is never identified, in the wake of the tragedy, the NTSB recommends a comprehensive series of changes that make flying safer. These include better crew training, and improvements to emergency exits which allow passengers to escape planes more quickly. "
Sep 30th
200a

Missed Approach

"Korean Air Flight 801 is flying to Guam International Airport from Seoul, when it runs into bad weather. Turbulence bounces passengers and crew – but much worse is to come. Fighting rain, and faulty navigational equipment, the crew struggle to find the airport. But just as they see it, the rain closes in again. As the plane flies closer and closer to the ground, warning sirens fill the cockpit. But still, the crew is flying blind. The rain won’t let up. Flight 801 crashes five kilometres short of the Guam airport, scattered down Nimitz Hill. While many passengers survive the crash, they can’t escape the fires that tear through the wreckage. More than 200 people are killed. For one of the survivors – Barry Small – the crash is the beginning of a crusade to make air travel safer. He believes poor seat design broke the legs of many on board, making it impossible for them to escape. He also believes badly stored duty free liquor ignited after the crash, making the fires worse. For investigators, flight 801 is a wake-up call. Vital safety equipment that could have saved the plane had been disabled, and the crew was poorly trained for such difficult landings. In the months that followed, changes were made to the airport and to the training of Korean pilots. "
Sep 30th
300a

Hidden Danger

"Around the globe, more than six billion people have traveled on a Boeing 737. They’re the backbone of the aviation industry. But in 1991, something happened onboard a 737 that sent shudders through the world of aviation.Moments from landing, United Airlines 585 starts spinning out of control and falls out of the sky at 450 kilometers per hour. Everyone on board is killed. In ten violent seconds, the crash site has become one of the most mysterious air disasters in aviation history.Almost two years after the crash, the NTSB had studied the crew, the weather, the rudder, and thousands of other pieces of evidence – but they can’t solve the mystery. For only the fourth time in its history, the NTSB release a report stating the cause of the crash of flight 585 was undetermined.On September 7, 1994, a year after the report on Flight 585 is released, the killer strikes again. Another 737 – this time US Air 427 – crashes near Pittsburg. All 132 passengers and crew are killed. Investigators begin to quickly see some striking similarities between US Air 427 -- and the unsolved case of United 585. But, like the earlier accident, investigators have plenty of theories, but can’t nail down a cause. With two crashes just a few years apart, serious questions are now being raised about the safety of 737s around the world. Billions of dollars, perhaps the airline industry itself, are at risk. Investigators need a break in the case, and fast.It’s only when another 737 has a similar problem – but doesn’t crash – that investigators crack the case open. The pilot of Eastwind 517, is on final approach into Richmond Virginia when, without warning, his 737 twice rolls sharply to the right. The pilot is able to recover, and land the plane safely. NTSB investigators quickly determine that what happened on board Eastwind 517 is alarmingly similar to events on flights 427 and 585. The pilot’s testimony leads investigators to zero in on the 737’s rudder controls. After a series of grueling tests, investigators discover that a key piece of equipment – a small hydraulic valve - jams and then functions in reverse under the right circumstances. It means that any time a pilot tried to correct a roll over, by pushing on the rudder, the rudder might turn in the opposite direction, causing a fatal accident. In the aftermath of the investigation, sweeping changes were made to improve the safety of the 737 -- and the entire aviation industry. New training protocols were designed to help pilots react to unusual in-flight events, upset recoveries and advanced maneuver training. The FAA also directed Boeing to redesign the rudder’s dual servo valve to eliminate the potential for reversal. Boeing spent more than a billion dollars to replace the valves on thousands of 737’s around the world."
Oct 1st
200a

Panic over the Pacific

"China Airlines Flight 006 is less than 500 kms from Los Angeles when disaster strikes. A series of small problems – beginning with the failure of the jet’s fourth engine – snowballs into an all-out emergency.The plane stalls, and begins tumbling toward the Pacific Ocean. As it twists and turns, the strong G-forces make the ride hellish for the crew and passengers who are crushed to their seats. The wings buckle, the doors to the landing gear are ripped off and crash into the tail. Precious hydraulic fuel – essential for landing – is lost. The wild spinning motion – and the thick clouds – mean the crew can’t tell up from down.In just two minutes the plane falls 30,000 feet (10 kms). Then, as it bursts through the clouds, the crew are finally able to see the horizon. Using this as a reference, they level their plane, and pull it out of its terrifying dive. Leaking hydraulic fluid, and flying with a mangled tail, the crew manage to land their crippled plane safely. The captain is hailed as a hero by the passengers.Investigators piecing together the extraordinary events of Flight 006 tell a different story. While the pilot and crew were able to save the lives of everyone on board, mistakes they made during the flight caused the near disaster. For the first time, the NTSB examines how sleep patterns and circadian rhythms helped put both the crew, and passengers, in an extremely dangerous position."
Oct 1st
300a

Out of Sight

"A calm Labour Day weekend is shattered by a devastating tragedy. A Los Angeles neighbourhood is destroyed and more than 80 lives are lost when two planes fall from the sky. An Aeromexico DC 9 is preparing to land at Los Angeles International Airport – one of the busiest in the world – when it collides with a much smaller plane, a Piper PA-28 Cherokee. The Cherokee slices off the tail of the DC 9, causing it to spiral out of control and crash. The smaller plane also crashes into the quiet suburb. The devastation is horrifying, all onboard perish and five homes are destroyed. The entire area is ablaze. Investigators must discover why this horrible event happened and ensure it never to occurs again. When interviewing the air traffic controller on duty, investigators discover another plane had entered the controlled air space surrounding LAX – the TCA – without permission. Dealing with this third plane may have distracted the controller and kept him from seeing the Cherokee on his radar. The crew on the larger plane, and the pilot on the smaller plane also seemed oblivious to each other in the minutes before the crash – suggesting problems with the standard “see and avoid” technique relied on at busy airports. The NTSB issued its report and the FAA took the recommendations to heart. It imposed changes to the way planes are monitored and tracked around congested airports by putting in place a new system which orally and visually alerts controllers to potential collisions. In addition, it regulated that smaller planes must be equipped with a new kind of transponder while larger planes have to be outfitted with collision avoidance systems. Since these measures were adopted, there hasn’t been another mid-air collision in or around a congested airport."
Oct 1st
300p

Out of Sight

"A calm Labour Day weekend is shattered by a devastating tragedy. A Los Angeles neighbourhood is destroyed and more than 80 lives are lost when two planes fall from the sky. An Aeromexico DC 9 is preparing to land at Los Angeles International Airport – one of the busiest in the world – when it collides with a much smaller plane, a Piper PA-28 Cherokee. The Cherokee slices off the tail of the DC 9, causing it to spiral out of control and crash. The smaller plane also crashes into the quiet suburb. The devastation is horrifying, all onboard perish and five homes are destroyed. The entire area is ablaze. Investigators must discover why this horrible event happened and ensure it never to occurs again. When interviewing the air traffic controller on duty, investigators discover another plane had entered the controlled air space surrounding LAX – the TCA – without permission. Dealing with this third plane may have distracted the controller and kept him from seeing the Cherokee on his radar. The crew on the larger plane, and the pilot on the smaller plane also seemed oblivious to each other in the minutes before the crash – suggesting problems with the standard “see and avoid” technique relied on at busy airports. The NTSB issued its report and the FAA took the recommendations to heart. It imposed changes to the way planes are monitored and tracked around congested airports by putting in place a new system which orally and visually alerts controllers to potential collisions. In addition, it regulated that smaller planes must be equipped with a new kind of transponder while larger planes have to be outfitted with collision avoidance systems. Since these measures were adopted, there hasn’t been another mid-air collision in or around a congested airport."
Oct 1st
400p

Fog of War

"In April, 1996, American government officials and high-powered U.S. businessmen were on a trade mission to Bosnia and Croatia. The last leg of the trip took them to Dubrovnik. Among those aboard the flight was US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, a close friend and political ally of President Clinton. Their aircraft was a specially outfitted 737 military jet and the crew were all experienced military personnel.As they neared the airport, rain made the journey increasingly difficult. A plane that landed just before them got in touch, warning the crew that conditions were the minimum needed to land safely.Just after three o’clock, local air traffic controllers lost contact with the American plane. Because the airport was devastated by the recent war in the region, it was operating with outdated landing equipment. The airport didn’t even have radars. Local controllers took no chances and called for help.After several hours of searching, a local farmer calls in a tip. Eventually, the plane is found high in the hills outside of the airport. It’s in pieces. There are no survivors. News of the crash races from Croatia to Washington. The political pressure to find answers is immense. The American Air Force launches an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. It takes 64 months for the report to be released and it lays the blame firmly with the military and states that several fatal factors came together to cause the accident: the equipment at Dubrovnik airport was inadequate, the 737 wasn’t outfitted to land at such an airport, the crew made several errors, key flying charts were wrong and most importantly, the airport in Dubrovnik wasn’t approved by the Department of Defence."
Oct 1st
500p

Vertigo

"January 3, 2004. In the darkness before dawn, Flash Airlines flight 604 takes off from Sharm el-Sheik Egypt, heading back to Paris. Sharm is a popular resort destination for many Europeans, and the flight is filled with families returning home. The pilot is a former Brigadier General and a well-respected commercial pilot with thousands of hours of flying under his belt. But just minutes after take off, something goes tragically wrong. The plane crashes into the Red Sea, shatters on impact and sinks. All 148 on board are killed. A crash in deep water presents tremendous obstacles to any accident investigator. In this case, after weeks of work, the plane’s two black boxes are recovered. But more than 85 per cent of the plane is left at the bottom of the Red Sea. It’s simply too expensive to salvage.The cockpit voice recorder tells a terrifying tale. An experienced pilot seems to be totally off guard as his plane swings suddenly into the sea. Investigators also learn that Flash Airlines was well known for its bad service and maintenance record. The airline had even been banned from flying in several countries because of its safety violations. After two years of investigation, four mechanical theories are put forward that might explain the crash. But there’s another, more troubling theory. Perhaps the pilot – taking off on a moonless night, over a pitch black sea – became disoriented. Unable to find a horizon, the pilot might have steered his plane into the sea without knowing it.In the end, the answer to this crash will always remain at the bottom of the Red Sea. One of the strangest crashes in recent history will likely remain a mystery forever."
Oct 4th
200a

Fog of War

"In April, 1996, American government officials and high-powered U.S. businessmen were on a trade mission to Bosnia and Croatia. The last leg of the trip took them to Dubrovnik. Among those aboard the flight was US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, a close friend and political ally of President Clinton. Their aircraft was a specially outfitted 737 military jet and the crew were all experienced military personnel.As they neared the airport, rain made the journey increasingly difficult. A plane that landed just before them got in touch, warning the crew that conditions were the minimum needed to land safely.Just after three o’clock, local air traffic controllers lost contact with the American plane. Because the airport was devastated by the recent war in the region, it was operating with outdated landing equipment. The airport didn’t even have radars. Local controllers took no chances and called for help.After several hours of searching, a local farmer calls in a tip. Eventually, the plane is found high in the hills outside of the airport. It’s in pieces. There are no survivors. News of the crash races from Croatia to Washington. The political pressure to find answers is immense. The American Air Force launches an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. It takes 64 months for the report to be released and it lays the blame firmly with the military and states that several fatal factors came together to cause the accident: the equipment at Dubrovnik airport was inadequate, the 737 wasn’t outfitted to land at such an airport, the crew made several errors, key flying charts were wrong and most importantly, the airport in Dubrovnik wasn’t approved by the Department of Defence."