Pan Am Flight 214

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Pan Am Flight 214
Boeing 707 "Stratoliner", 3rd 707-121 production airplane, N709PA, later delivered to Pan Am.jpg
The aircraft involved in the crash, N709PA, before being delivered to Pan Am
Accident summary
Date December 8, 1963
Summary Lightning strike
Site Elkton, Maryland, United States
39°36′28″N 75°47′20″W / 39.60778°N 75.78889°W / 39.60778; -75.78889Coordinates: 39°36′28″N 75°47′20″W / 39.60778°N 75.78889°W / 39.60778; -75.78889
Passengers 73
Crew 8
Fatalities 81 (all)
Aircraft type Boeing 707-121
Aircraft name Clipper Tradewind
Operator Pan American World Airways
Registration N709PA
Flight origin Luis Muñoz Marín Int'l Airport
Stopover Baltimore/Washington Int'l Airport
Destination Philadelphia Int'l Airport

Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121 registered as N709PA,was en route from Baltimore to Philadelphia on December 8, 1963, when it crashed near Elkton, Maryland after being hit by lightning, killing all 81 on board.[1]

The accident is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records (2005) as the "Worst Lightning Strike Death Toll."[2][nb 1]

Flight history[edit]

On December 8, 1963, Pan American flight 214, a Boeing 707 jet airliner, nicknamed Clipper[nb 2] Tradewind, departed Isla Verde International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico at 4:10pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) for a flight to Baltimore's Friendship Airport (now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, or BWI), where 69 passengers disembarked.

At 8:24 p.m. EST, flight 214 departed for Philadelphia with 73 passengers and 8 crew members on board. Because of high winds in the area, the crew chose to wait in a holding pattern with five other airplanes rather than attempt to land in Philadelphia.[3]

At 8:58 p.m. EST, while in the holding pattern, the aircraft was hit by lightning, which ignited fuel vapors in the No. 1 (left) reserve tank, causing an explosion that blew apart the outer portion of the jetliner's port wing. The crew of flight 214 managed to transmit a final message – "Mayday, mayday, mayday ... Clipper 214 out of control ... here we go" – before it crashed near Elkton, Maryland. All 81 people on board were killed.[4]


Diagram showing Flight 214's fuel tank layout.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated the accident, and issued the following Probable Cause statement on March 3, 1965:[3]

Probable Cause: Lightning-induced ignition of the fuel/air mixture in the no. 1 reserve fuel tank with resultant explosive disintegration of the left outer wing and loss of control.

In response to the CAB's findings, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered lightning discharge wicks (or static dischargers) to be installed on all commercial jets flying inside US airspace.[citation needed]

Volatile fuel vapor recommendation[edit]

On December 17, 1963, nine days after the crash of flight 214, Leon H. Tanguay, director of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Bureau of Safety, sent a letter to the FAA recommending several safety modifications as part of future aircraft design. One modification related specifically to volatile fuel vapors that can form inside of partly empty fuel tanks, which may be ignited by various potential ignition sources and cause an explosion. Mr Tanguay's letter suggested reducing the volatility of the fuel/air gas mixture by introducing an inert gas, or by using air circulation.[1] Thirty-three years later[nb 3] a similar recommendation was issued by the NTSB (the CAB Bureau of Safety's successor) after the TWA Flight 800 Boeing 747 crash on July 17, 1996, with 230 fatalities, which was also determined to have been caused by the explosion of a volatile mixture inside a fuel tank.[5]

See also[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ In 1971, LANSA Flight 508 was also brought down by a lightning strike. However, though this crash would have more total casualties (91 fatalities), up to fourteen passengers survived the crash but perished waiting for help in the Peruvian jungle.
  2. ^ Pan Am flights were called 'Clipper' by Air Traffic Control
  3. ^ The full TWA 800 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report was issued in 2000, but a safety recommendation regarding fuel vapor inerting was sent to the FAA on December 13, 1996, according to the NTSB report

External links[edit]