The BEST Episodes of Air Disasters
Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!
Last Updated: Oct 10, 2021
Network: Smithsonian Channel
Harrowing stories of tragedy and triumph are brought to life through official reports, transcripts and interviews with the pilots, air traffic controllers and lucky survivors of history's most terrifying crashes. Widely considered to be the safest form of travel, air transportation is still in its infancy and when midair calamity strikes, the results are often catastrophic. From the cockpit to the cabin, from the control room to the crash scene, we uncover just what went wrong.
#1 - I'm the Problem
Season 3 - Episode 3 - Aired Mar 17, 2013
Moments before a Pacific Southwest flight crashes in California, gunshots are heard in the cabin.
#2 - Turning Point
Season 3 - Episode 5 - Aired Mar 31, 2013
A Northwest Airlines flight above the Bering Sea must make an emergency landing in Anchorage.
#3 - Focused on Failure
Season 4 - Episode 8 - Aired Jul 27, 2014
Just minutes before touching down in Portland International Airport, all four engines of a DC-8 mysteriously flame out. With the aircraft dropping 3,000 feet per minute, the pilots realize they have no option but to crash land in the middle of a major American city. Witness the harrowing emergency landing of United Airlines Flight 173 in Portland, Oregon, and uncover the shocking reasons for its massive engine failure.
#4 - Death of the President
Season 4 - Episode 10 - Aired Aug 10, 2014
It was an air disaster that crippled a country, heightened tensions between two nations, and ignited conspiracy theories worldwide. On April 10, 2010, Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M, carrying Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, crashed on Russian soil, killing everyone aboard. Russian experts pinned the blame on the pilots, but Poland's Interior Minister examined the evidence and reached a far different conclusion. Experience the tragedy that shocked the world and follow the investigation that remains steeped in controversy.
#5 - Ghost Plane
Season 7 - Episode 10 - Aired Oct 9, 2016
The case of Helios Airways 737, in which a passenger flight circling Athens fails to respond to air-traffic controllers.
#6 - Concorde - Up in Flames
Season 8 - Episode 7 - Aired Jan 29, 2017
Follow investigators as they use the few remaining pieces of a fiery crash to explain a Concorde's doomed flight.
#7 - Grand Canyon
Season 4 - Episode 6 - Aired Jun 8, 2014
Two commercial airliners go missing over the Arizona desert, and are later found in pieces, scattered along the Grand Canyon floor. It's 1956, and air disaster examiner Jack Parshall is pressed for answers. There are no black boxes or any of the advanced technology used by modern day investigators. And all he has to go on are plane fragments and his own expertise. See how Parshall and his team of experts literally pieced the accident together, and how their findings helped transform air travel as we currently know it.
#8 - Subtle Incapacitation
Season 4 - Episode 11 - Aired Aug 17, 2014
Five minutes into Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409, something goes wrong. The pilots lose control of their aircraft, and before they can regain command, they begin an unstoppable descent into the Mediterranean Sea. All 90 aboard are dead and experts are scrambling for answers. There was a storm, but was it big enough to take down a 737? Or was there a more ominous explanation? Experience the terrifying disaster of January 25, 2010, and follow the investigation that led to a finding so controversial, some still refuse to believe it.
#9 - Fight for Control
Season 4 - Episode 1 - Aired Apr 27, 2014
The Lockheed Electra was the workhorse of Reeve Aleutian Airways, one of the few links from Cold Bay, Alaska, to the outside world. But on June 8, 1983, the plane nearly plunged 19,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean after one of its propellers tore from the aircraft and cut a hole through the cabin. Join us as we document this incredible story of survival, from the cockpit to the cabin, with witness accounts, official records, and dramatic recreations.
#10 - Fire in the Hold
Season 4 - Episode 2 - Aired May 4, 2014
The worst aviation disaster in Florida's history occurred on May 11, 1996. ValuJet Flight 592 mysteriously crashed into the alligator-infested swamps of the Everglades, killing all 110 aboard. Had the FAA implemented safety regulations instated after a similar crash eight years earlier, the tragedy would never have happened. Follow the investigation that would outrage a nation, cost the Secretary of Transportation and an FAA administrator their jobs, and ultimately doom ValuJet Airlines.
#11 - Invisible Killer
Season 1 - Episode 1 - Aired May 15, 2011
A landing goes wrong when Delta Airlines Flight 191 is hit by an invisible force.
#12 - Gimli Glider
Season 1 - Episode 2 - Aired May 22, 2011
A pilot heads for a decommissioned air force base when the 767 he is flying runs out of fuel.
#13 - Behind Closed Doors
Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired May 29, 2011
A flaw on the infamous DC-10 airline causing two midair crashes in the early 70's.
#14 - Fanning the Flames
Season 1 - Episode 4 - Aired Jun 5, 2011
A recovery operation is launched to find out if a 747 was carrying illegal weapons.
#15 - Dead Weight
Season 1 - Episode 5 - Aired Jun 12, 2011
Just after take-off, Air Midwest Flight 5481 plummets to the ground, killing all on board.
#16 - Southern Storm
Season 1 - Episode 6 - Aired Jun 26, 2011
Pilots of Southern Airways Flight 242 must try to land on a Georgia highway after the engines die.
#17 - Explosive Evidence
Season 1 - Episode 7 - Aired Jul 10, 2011
A bomb explodes on Air India Flight 182 en route from Canada to India.
#18 - Mixed Signals
Season 1 - Episode 8 - Aired Jul 17, 2011
Conflicting alarms confuse pilots of Birgenair Flight 301 before it crashes into the ocean.
#19 - Fatal Distraction
Season 1 - Episode 9 - Aired Jul 24, 2011
Pilots try to determine why both landing-gear lights do not function on an L-1011.
#20 - Phantom Strike
Season 1 - Episode 10 - Aired Jul 31, 2011
A Legacy business jet collides with a Boeing 737 in mid-air over the Amazon Rain Forest.
#21 - Cracks in the System
Season 2 - Episode 1 - Aired Jun 17, 2012
Chalk's Ocean Airways flight 101 crashes just after take-off from Watson Island in Miami.
#22 - Target is Destroyed
Season 2 - Episode 2 - Aired Jun 24, 2012
Korean Airlines Flight 007 is shot down by a fighter jet when it enters Soviet airspace.
#23 - Cruel Skies
Season 2 - Episode 3 - Aired Jul 1, 2012
The importance of weather forecasting to the aviation industry.
#24 - Panic on the Runway
Season 2 - Episode 4 - Aired Jul 8, 2012
In August, 1985, an airplane's engine catches fire as it accelerates.
#25 - Alarming Silence
Season 2 - Episode 5 - Aired Jul 15, 2012
Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashes shortly after take-off in Detroit.