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
DateDecember 8, 1963
SummaryIn-flight explosion caused by lightning strike
SiteElkton, Maryland, United States
39°36′47.8″N 75°47′29.7″W / 39.613278°N 75.791583°W / 39.613278; -75.791583Coordinates: 39°36′47.8″N 75°47′29.7″W / 39.613278°N 75.791583°W / 39.613278; -75.791583
Aircraft typeBoeing 707-121
Aircraft nameClipper Tradewind
OperatorPan American World Airways
Flight originLuis Muñoz Marín Int'l Airport
StopoverBaltimore/Washington Int'l Airport
DestinationPhiladelphia Int'l Airport

Pan Am Flight 214 was a scheduled flight of Pan American World Airways from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On December 8, 1963, the Boeing 707 serving the flight crashed near Elkton, Maryland, while on route from Baltimore to Philadelphia, after being hit by lightning, killing all 81 on board.[1] The accident is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records (2005) as the "Worst Lightning Strike Death Toll."[2]

Flight history[edit]

At 4:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 8, 1963, Pan American Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121 jet airliner, registration N709PA,[3] nicknamed Clipper Tradewind (this happened to be the first jet delivered to a United States airline[4]), departed Isla Verde International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It landed as scheduled at Baltimore's Friendship Airport (now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, or BWI), and 69 passengers disembarked.

At 8:24 p.m., Flight 214 departed for Philadelphia with 73 passengers and eight 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.[5]

At 8:58 p.m., while in the holding pattern, the aircraft exploded. The crew managed to transmit a final message – "Mayday, mayday, mayday ... Clipper 214 out of control ... here we go" – before crashing near Elkton, Maryland. All 81 people on board were killed.[6] The aircraft was mere seconds away from crossing the Maryland-Delaware border.


CAB engineer examines the badly damaged flight recorder of Pan Am Flight 214
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:[5]

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) asked operators to install lightning discharge wicks (or static dischargers) on all commercial jets flying in US airspace.[7]

Volatile fuel vapor recommendation[edit]

On December 17, 1963, nine days after the crash of flight 214, Leon H. Tanguay, director of the 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 partly empty fuel tanks, which may be ignited by various potential ignition sources and cause an explosion. 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 1] 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 deemed to have been caused by the explosion of a volatile mixture inside a fuel tank.[8] After that accident, new requirements were developed for aircraft to prevent future fuel tank explosions.[9]

See also[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]


  1. ^ 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


  1. ^ a b "Pan Am Flight 214 CAB report (PDF) (Historical Aircraft Accident, 1963, Pan Am)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 26, 2013.
  2. ^ copy of Guinness Book of World Records entry for Pan Am flight 214
  3. ^ "FAA Registry (N709PA)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  4. ^ McClement, Fred (1966). It Doesn't Matter Where You Sit. Toronto/Montreal: McClelland and Stewart. p. 19. OCLC 955544.
  5. ^ a b Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on June 12, 2006.
  6. ^ "Civil Aeronautics Board report". Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved June 12, 2006.
  7. ^ McClement, p. 22.
  8. ^ TWA 800 NTSB AAR-00/03 Final Report, adopted August 23, 2000.
  9. ^ Lowery, Joan (July 16, 2008). "Jet fuel-tank protection ordered". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Associated Press. Retrieved April 5, 2011.

External links[edit]