12 Black Box Recordings Right Before Their Planes Crashed
Black box recorders can withstand g-force impact that is beyond comprehension. They can also take 1,800-degree heat, which is the reason why they’re often the best evidence for investigators studying plane crashes. Here are a few last words that were revealed after black boxes were recovered.
Air Canada Flight 621 (July 5, 1970)
These were the last words of First Officer Donald Rowland. He was apologizing to Captain Peter Hamilton for a mistake. Their Douglas DC-8 aircraft smashed into a farm outside Brampton, Ontario at 253 miles per hour, killing all 109 people on board. Rowland deployed spoilers to reduce lift prematurely. One engine broke off from the wing, causing other parts of the wing to break off, too. They attempted to lift, but couldn’t. It was the second-deadliest aviation disaster in Canada’s history.
“Ma, I love you.”
Pacific Southwest Airlines 182 (September 25, 1978)
In a freak accident that would cause the deaths of 137 people, a Cessna 172 and a Boeing 727 collided in the sky above San Diego. Witnesses say they heard a “loud metallic crunching sound.” One of the two pilots of the Cessna, David Boswell, was wearing a hoodie. A report declared that this clothing malfunction caused a blind spot in Boswell’s vision. At an altitude of 2,600 feet, the Cessna collided with the Boeing, causing heavy damage to its right wing. It fell to earth and landed in the neighborhood of North Park, also killing seven people on the ground and destroying 22 homes.
“Goodnight, goodbye, we perish!”
LOT Flight 5055 (May 9, 1987)
A flight to New York City’s JFK Airport from Warsaw, Poland, would leave a “long scar” in the forest of a nature reserve that is still visible from the sky in 2016. In 1987, this plane’s engine exploded, causing the deaths of 183 people. The bodies of 62 passengers are still unidentified even 29 years later because they were so badly dismembered.
“I rely on God.”
EgyptAir Flight 990 (Halloween of 1999)
Revenge drove the killer. Relief First Officer Gamil el-Batouty was recently reprimanded for sexual misconduct. The man who reprimanded him, Chief of EgyptAir’s Boeing 767 pilot group Hatem Rushdy, was also on the plane. Rushdy told el-Batouty that he would never again fly U.S. routes. And this angered el-Batouty. He dropped the Boeing 767 14,600 feet in 36 seconds. It hit international waters off the coast of Cairo, killing 217. El-Batouty repeated these final words eight times before the crash.
“That’s it. I’m dead.”
Surinam Airways 764 (June 7, 1989)
According to airline protocol, the 66-year-old captain was too old to fly. On a flight from Amsterdam to Surinam, he flew below the minimum altitude and tried to prematurely land. One of the plane’s engines struck a tree. Out of the 187 passengers, 176 died, including 14 Dutch soccer players and their coach.
“Damn it, we’re going to crash…it can’t be true.”
Air France Flight 447 (June 1, 2009)
The Airbus A330 plummeted 3 minutes and 30 seconds from 38,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. More than two years after the accident, the black box was recovered from the ocean floor where they discovered these final words. They blamed it on a technical glitch. The plane’s pilot tubes were obstructed by ice crystals. The autopilot disengaged, and the crew reacted incorrectly. An aerodynamic stall caused the Airbus to go from 315 miles per hour to 60 miles per hour. During the free fall, it reached a speed of 175 miles per hour before hitting the water. A death count of 227 would be France’s deadliest.
Also, moments before the crash, pilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, could be heard in the recording saying, “I don’t have control of the plane. I don’t have control at all.”
“Amy, I love you.”
Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 (August 21, 1995)
On a flight from Atlanta to Mississippi, the propeller of a small Embraer Brasilia aircraft died on the left engine, completely distorting the wing’s profile. Occupants of the aircraft described hearing what sounded like a “baseball bat striking a trash can.” Nine of the 29 passengers were killed when the plane careened into a field near Carrollton, Georgia. The speaker of these last words, 28-year-old Matt Warmerdam, survived, but his captain, Ed Gannaway, 45, died.
“That’s all guys! Fuck!”
Vladivostok Air Flight 352 (July 4, 2001)
The third-deadliest crash in Russian history would happen in Irkutsk when the pilot lost control after violently pulling back on the control column. After the plane stalled, it fell to earth. All 145 passengers on board were killed.
“We got engine failure. We’re not gonna make it. Full power.”
Delta Air Lines Flight 1141 (August 31, 1988)
The flight lasted only 22 seconds. Upon takeoff, the right wing touched the ground and caused the aircraft to violently slide sideways. It left an 800-foot long streak of wreckage. There were 14 passengers who died, each via smoke inhalation. “Inadequate cockpit discipline” was one of the likely reasons proposed for the crash.
Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801 (August 29, 1996)
In the deadliest aviation accident in Norwegian history, 141 people would die. Victims were mostly employees of a Russian state-owned mining company called Arktikugol, and they were being transported from Moscow. In what is perhaps the most excruciating detail of this incident, the crash was caused by a “language problem.” The pilots couldn’t communicate with the landing crew. The plane collided with the Norwegian mountain of Operafjellet, which it hit going 210 miles per hour.
“What? There’s what? Some hills, isn’t there?”
VASP Flight 168 (June 8, 1982)
The Captain was disoriented by the bright city lights of Fortaleza, Brazil. He was warned twice by the altitude alert system, but he wouldn’t use it. He descended well-below the 5,000-foot clearance limit to 2,500 feet, crashing into a hillside and killing 137 passengers. If you can stomach it, here’s the fuzzy recording.
“Open the goddamn door.”
Germanwings Flight 9525 (March 24, 2015)
Andreas Lubitz was taking prescription drugs. Investigators found queries “ways to commit suicide” and “cockpit doors and their security provisions” on his tablet computer. After Pilot Patrick Sondheimer, the man who uttered these words, left for the toilet, Lubitz plunged 38,000 feet into the French Alps going 430 miles per hour. All 144 passengers instantly died.
Lubitz was hiding mental illness from Germanwings. He was declared “unfit to work” by a doctor. Lubitz himself believed he was going blind, which would end his career as a pilot, so he sought the only way out in his psychosomatic mind. Germanwings never had a fatal plane crash in its 18-year history until that day.