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. 

X

Upcoming episodes

Nov 30th
600a

Runaway Train

One of the largest train disasters in U.S history. A freight train rumbling through the calm suburb of San Bernardino, California, derails and crashes, destroying homes and taking lives. Less than two weeks later a pipeline, weakened in the cleanup of the derailment, explodes.
Dec 1st
600a

Kid in the Cockpit

RIA Flight 593 from Moscow to Hong Kong was routine in every respect. Then, in less than five minutes, it fell from the sky. There was distress call. No warning. The investigation reveals a shocking event in the cockpit, and poor training before take-off, lead to the death of everyone on board.The freight train was almost two kilometres long, and weighed more than 12 000 tones. It had already flashed past signals ordering it to stop. The two trains collided head on at a combined speed of nearly 200 kph – and the result was disastrous. Twenty three people are killed and more than 70 are injured.Why had the engineer and the brakeman at the front of the train ignored signal lights telling them to stop? The only member of the freight train crew who survived the crash was the conductor on the caboose. His testimony to an inquiry raises disturbing questions about his performance, and that of the two men at the front of the train. Investigators also make shocking discoveries regarding the management of freight trains in Canada."
Dec 2nd
600a

Collision Course

A calm trip through the Rocky Mountains ends in disaster, when a VIA Rail train slams head-on into an enormous freight train. How did the two trains wind up on the same piece of track? An inquiry makes shocking discoveries about the men who run the freight trains in Canada.
Dec 3rd
600a

Head on Collision

The Greek ferry, Express Samina, is on its normal route between Athens and the island of Paros when it smashes into a huge rock. It takes 50 minutes for the ferry to slip beneath the waves. 80 of the 533 people aboard lose their lives. How could the vessel hit a rock that rises 25 meters out of the sea?
Dec 6th
600a

Ocean Landing

"When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 departed from Addis Ababa on November 23, 1996, it was carrying 163 passengers and 12 crew members. Among them were an American diplomat, a legendary news cameraman, and three young Ethiopians with a deadly plan. Twenty minutes into the flight, the three young men rushed the cockpit and hijacked the aircraft. They demanded that the plane switch course to Australia – an 11-hour flight. It was a suicidal request – the plane had only three hours of fuel.Captain Leol Abate had been hijacked twice before. When he was unable to convince the hijackers to change their destination, he developed a back-up plan. Without their knowledge, he headed toward the tiny Comoros Islands. An airport there might be his last chance. With fuel running out, the hijackers refused to change their mind – and refused to let the Captain land at the Comoros airport. Abate’s only option was an extremely dangerous ditching at sea. With the help of his co-pilot Abate does his best to save his plane and those on board. The plane crashes into the sea 500 yards from a Comoros beach. Its final few, terrifying seconds are caught on video by someone watching from shore. The hijackers are all killed in the crash. The pilot, co-pilot and 50 others survive. Flight 961 remains one of the deadliest hijackings in history. In 1997, the pilot and co-pilot received the Flight Safety Foundation Award for their bravery."
Dec 7th
600a

Miracle Escape

"August 2, 2005 - In a raging thunderstorm, after a difficult landing, Air France 358 skids off the runway in Toronto. As it crashes, the left engine catches fire. More than 300 passengers and crew have only seconds to escape. With only half of the emergency exits open, and only two of the slides deployed, frantic passengers fight through flames and thickening smoke. In less than three minutes, the plane is completely engulfed by fire. Barefoot, without luggage, survivors emerge by the side of Toronto’s busiest highway, and catch rides back to the airport from bewildered commuters. When all are accounted for, miraculously, all on board escape the crash. The investigation reveals that weather wasn’t the only – or even most important – cause of the accident. Co-pilot inexperience may have contributed significantly. But more importantly, there were eight other runway over runs in the world last year which killed more than 100 people. There are technologies in use in some cities that could decrease that number significantly, but only if they’re implemented.An incredible story of terror and survival, with important challenges to the way planes are flown around the world. "
Dec 8th
600a

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."
Dec 9th
600a

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. "
Dec 10th
600a

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. "
Dec 13th
600a

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."