Suicide by pilot
Suicide by pilot is an event in which a certified or uncertified pilot deliberately crashes or attempts to crash an aircraft in a suicide attempt, sometimes to kill passengers on board or people on the ground. This is sometimes described as a murder–suicide. It is suspected as being a possible cause of the crashes of several commercial flights and is confirmed as the cause in others. Generally, it is difficult for crash investigators to determine the motives of the pilots, since they sometimes act deliberately to turn off recording devices or otherwise hinder future investigations. As a result, pilot suicide can be difficult to prove with certainty.
Investigators do not qualify aircraft incidents as suicide unless there is compelling evidence that the pilot was doing so. This evidence would include suicide notes, previous attempts, threats of suicide, or a history of mental illness. In a study of pilot suicides from 2002–2013, eight cases were identified as definite suicides, with five additional cases of undetermined cause that may have been suicides. Investigators may also work with terrorism experts, checking for links to extremist groups to try to determine whether the suicide was an act of terrorism.
Most cases of suicide by pilot involve general aviation in small aircraft. In most of these, the pilot is the only person on board the aircraft. In about half of the cases, the pilot was using drugs, usually alcohol or anti-depressants, that would ban them from flying. Many of these pilots had mental illness histories that they had hidden from regulators.
World War II suicide attacks
During World War II, the Russian aviator Nikolai Gastello was the first Soviet pilot credited with a (later disputed) "fire taran" in a suicide attack by an aircraft on a ground target, although his aircraft had been shot down and was in a rapid partially controllable descent. In the following years there were more suicide attacks; the best known by military aviators are the attacks from the Empire of Japan, called kamikaze, against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II. These attacks were designed to destroy warships more effectively than was possible with conventional attacks; between October 1944 and 1945, 3,860 kamikaze pilots committed suicide in this manner.
List of declared or suspected pilot suicides
This list excludes World War II suicide attacks on ground targets (see section above).
|Believed to be suicide|
|Attack on aircraft halted|
By pilots in control of whole flight
|Crash date||Perpetrator||Flight Type||Flight||Fatalities||Theories||Aircraft||Refs|
|September 26, 1976||Pilot||General aviation||Stolen aircraft||5
(pilot, 4 on the ground)
|Vladimir Serkov attempted to pilot his Antonov An-2 plane into the parents' apartment where his wife and two-years-old son were visiting, see Antonov_An-2#Accidents_and_incidents.|||
|January 5, 1977||Pilot||General aviation||Connellan air disaster||5
(pilot, 4 on the ground)
|A disgruntled former employee of Connellan Airways (Connair) flew a Beechcraft Baron into the Connair complex at the Alice Springs Airport, Northern Territory, Australia.|||
|August 22, 1979||Pilot||General aviation||Stolen aircraft||4
(pilot, 3 on the ground)
|A 23-year-old aircraft mechanic working at Bogota El Dorado Airport stole a Hawker-Siddeley HS-748 and crashed it into a Bogota suburb.|||
|June 1, 1980||Pilot||General aviation||Barra do Garças air disaster||7
(pilot, 4 passengers, 2 on ground)
|After an argument with his wife and mother-in-law, Brazilian pilot Mauro Milhomem attempted to crash his Embraer EMB 721 Sertanejo, which was also carrying four passengers, into a hotel owned by a family member after he discovered that his wife had cheated on him. He failed to hit the hotel, and instead hit several objects before crashing the plane into another building. His wife committed suicide a few days later. In total, seven people were killed and four were wounded.|||
|February 9, 1982||Pilot||Commercial flight||Japan Airlines Flight 350||24
||Pilot engaged number 2 and 3 engines' thrust-reversers in flight. The first officer and Flight Engineer were able to partially regain control.|||
|September 15, 1982||Pilot||General aviation||Bankstown Airport incident||1
||The pilot of a stolen SOCATA Tobago committed suicide by deliberately crashing into Bankstown Airport in the City of Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia|||
|July 13, 1994||Pilot||Military||Stolen aircraft||1
||A Russian air force engineer stole the airplane at Kubinka air base outside Moscow. He circled the aircraft until it ran out of fuel and crashed.|||
|August 21, 1994||Pilot||Commercial flight||Royal Air Maroc Flight 630||44
||Crashed intentionally by pilot (disputed by flight union)|||
|September 12, 1994||Pilot||General aviation||Stolen aircraft||1
||Crashed intentionally by Frank Eugene Corder on the White House south lawn.|||
|April 2, 1997||Pilot||Military||Craig D. Button incident||1
||While on a training mission, Button flew off course and ceased radio contact. The jet later crashed into a mountain in Colorado.|
|December 19, 1997||Pilot||Commercial flight||SilkAir Flight 185||104
||Crashed intentionally by pilot (disputed by Indonesian government)|||
|October 11, 1999||Pilot||Stolen commercial aircraft||1999 Air Botswana incident||1
||Pilot commandeered and then crashed an Air Botswana aircraft into a group of aircraft at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone, Botswana|||
|October 31, 1999||First officer||Commercial flight||EgyptAir Flight 990||217
||After the captain left the cockpit, relief first officer Gameel Al-Batouti turned off the autopilot while repeatedly saying "I rely on God" in Arabic, causing the plane to go into a dive and crash into the Atlantic Ocean. The reason for his inputs was not determined
 (U.S. National Transportation Safety Board); Mechanical fault in elevator control system (Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority) (cause is still disputed)
|January 5, 2002||Pilot||General aviation||2002 Tampa airplane crash||1
(pilot, damaged an office)
|Crashed into Bank of America Plaza. The pilot, teen Charles J. Bishop, credited and praised Osama bin Laden for September 11, 2001 attacks in his suicide note.|||
|July 22, 2005||Pilot||General aviation||2005 Berlin airplane crash||1||A 39-year old pilot deliberately crashed his own light aircraft, a Platzer Kiebitz, in a field right in front of the Reichstag in Berlin.|||
|February 18, 2010||Pilot||General aviation||2010 Austin suicide attack||2
(pilot, 1 on the ground)
|Andrew Joseph Stack III deliberately crashed his single-engine Piper Dakota light aircraft into Building I of the Echelon complex housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, United States.|||
|November 29, 2013||Pilot||Commercial flight||LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470||33
||The pilot intentionally crashed the aircraft. The co-pilot was locked out of the cockpit, according to the voice recorder.|||
|March 24, 2015||First officer||Commercial flight||Germanwings Flight 9525||150
||Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, previously treated for depression and suicidal tendencies, locked the captain out of the cockpit before deliberately letting the plane crash into a mountain near Prads-Haute-Bléone, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.|||
|October 11, 2016||Student pilot||General aviation||East Hartford, CT Piper PA-34 Seneca crash||1
||Jordanian student pilot Feras Freitekh was killed and his instructor injured after they argued and wrestled for control of the airplane on landing approach; the plane crashed into a utility pole near the Pratt & Whitney headquarters. Investigators concluded the crash was an intentional act motivated by suicide based on the surviving instructor, who said there was an argument and struggle for control. The FBI was investigating, but he was not known to intelligence agencies, no religious statements were heard, and nothing else pointed to terrorism.|||
|March 15, 2017||Pilot||General aviation||Manitouwadge Cessna crash||1||Xin Rong, an experienced pilot, departed from Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States in a Cessna 172P and disappeared. The aircraft was found wrecked near Manitouwadge, Ontario, Canada with the right-hand door open, but no human remains nor footprints in the snow were found at the crash site. Investigators believe that Rong deliberately jumped out somewhere en route and the Cessna subsequently ran out of fuel. His body has not been found and he was subsequently declared dead.|||
|August 10, 2018||Ground service employee||Stolen commercial aircraft||2018 Horizon Air Q400 incident||1||Horizon Air ground service employee Richard "Beebo" Russell conducted an unauthorized take-off in a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 from Sea-Tac International Airport, performing aerobatic maneuvers over SeaTac and Puget Sound whilst being pursued by fighter jets, before crashing the plane into Ketron Island in the South Puget Sound.|||
|August 13, 2018||Pilot||Stolen private aircraft||Stolen Cessna 525 CitationJet||1||A man who was released after arrest for domestic assault charges stole an aircraft then crashed at his own home in Payson, Utah in an attempt to murder his spouse. The man, who was an experienced pilot, was killed while no one in the house was harmed.|||
|Crash date||Attacker||Flight Type||Flight||Fatalities||Theories||Aircraft||Refs|
|May 7, 1964||Passenger||Commercial flight||Pacific Air Lines Flight 773||44||Francisco Paula Gonzales, a depressed man in debt, shot both pilots before shooting himself, causing the plane to crash. All 44 people on board died.|||
|February 22, 1974||Shooter||Commercial flight||Delta Airlines Flight 523||3
(hijacker, co-pilot, police officer)
|Samuel Byck intended to crash into the White House in the hope of killing U.S. President Richard Nixon. He killed a police officer and hijacked the aircraft, but the aircraft never left the gate. Byck shot the co-pilot before being wounded by police in a shootout and committing suicide.|||
|December 7, 1987||Former employee||Commercial flight||Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771||43
(all; five shot dead before impact)
|The plane was hijacked by one of the passengers, a disgruntled former employee of USAir, who shot his former boss, both pilots, a flight attendant and another person dead before crashing the plane near Cayucos, California, United States.|||
|April 7, 1994||Employee and off duty pilot||Commercial flight||Federal Express Flight 705||0
|Auburn Calloway, a deadheading Federal Express employee, facing possible dismissal, smuggled a hammer and speargun aboard, then attempted to hijack the cargo jet before crashing it into the FedEx headquarters as part of an insurance fraud scheme for his family's benefit. Despite suffering from injuries inflicted by Calloway with the hammer, the crew fought off the hijacker using a number of techniques, including inverting the plane and flying at near-supersonic speed, and landed the plane safely.|||
|December 24, 1994||Terrorist hijackers||Commercial flight||Air France Flight 8969||7
(all 4 hijackers, 3 passengers)
|After having killed three passengers, the hijacker intended to crash the aircraft into the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When the aircraft reached Marseille, a counterterror unit of the French National Gendarmerie (GIGN) raided the aircraft and killed all four hijackers.|||
|September 11, 2001||Terrorist hijackers||Commercial flight||American Airlines Flight 11||1692
(87 passengers and crew, 5 hijackers, about 1600 on the ground)
|Aircraft hijacked and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center by hijackers as part of the September 11, 2001 attacks.|||
|September 11, 2001||Terrorist hijackers||Commercial flight||United Airlines Flight 175||965
(60 passengers and crew, 5 hijackers, about 900 on the ground)
|Aircraft hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center by hijackers as part of September 11, 2001 attacks.|||
|September 11, 2001||Terrorist hijackers||Commercial flight||American Airlines Flight 77||189
(59 passengers and crew, 5 hijackers, 125 on the ground)
|Aircraft hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon by hijackers as part of September 11, 2001 attacks.|||
|September 11, 2001||Terrorist hijackers||Commercial flight||United Airlines Flight 93||44
(40 passengers and crew, 4 hijackers)
|Aircraft hijacked as part of September 11, 2001 attacks.
Passengers revolted against the hijackers, and the plane crashed in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania. Although the plane crashed with the death of all aboard, the passengers prevented the hijackers from reaching their target for another attack (thought to be the White House or the Capitol Building).
In a 2016 study published in Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, Kenedi et al. systematically review suicide and homicide-suicide events involving aircraft. They note that "In aeromedical literature and in the media, these very different events are both described as pilot suicide, but in psychiatry they are considered separate events with distinct risk factors." The study (1999-2015) reviews medical databases, internet search engines, and aviation safety databases and includes 65 cases of pilot suicide (compared to 195 pilot-errors in those years) and six cases of passengers who jumped from aircraft. There are also 18 cases of homicide-suicide involving 732 deaths. Pilots perpetrated 13 homicide-suicide events. Compared to non-aviation samples, a large percentage of pilot suicides in this study were homicide-suicides (17%).
Kenedi et al. note that homicide-suicide events occur only extremely rarely, but that their impact, in terms of the proportion of deaths, is significant when compared to deaths from accidents. They state: "There is evidence of clustering where pilot suicides occur after media reports of suicide or homicide-suicide. Five of six homicide-suicide events by pilots of commercial airliners occurred after they were left alone in the cockpit. This, along with a sixth incident in which active intervention by a Japan Air crew saved 147 lives, suggests that having two flight members in the cockpit is potentially protective. No single factor was associated with the risk for suicide or homicide-suicide. Factors associated with both events included legal and financial crises, occupational conflict, mental illness, and relationship stressors. Drugs and/or alcohol played a role in almost half of suicides, but not in homicide-suicides."
U.S. regulations require at least two flight crew members to be in the cockpit at all times for safety reasons, to be able to help in any medical or other emergency, including intervening if a crew member would try to crash the plane. Following the deliberate crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24, 2015, some European and Canadian airlines adopted a two-in-cockpit policy as did all Australian airlines for aircraft with fifty or more passenger seats.
- Aviation accidents and incidents
- Aviation safety
- List of aircraft hijackings, for instances where a hijacker crashed the aircraft
- Vehicle ramming attack
- Mental health in aviation
- Suicide by cop
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- Deliberate acts: 5 cases of pilots intentionally crashing at cnn.com
- List of aircraft accidents and incidents intentionally caused by pilots at aviation-safety.net
- Pilot suicide cases few and far between at canberratimes.com