May 26

This Day in History

Disaster

May 26, 1991:

Plane crashes in Thai jungle

On this day in 1991, a Boeing 767 crashes into the jungle near Bangkok, Thailand, and kills all 223 people on board. The plane was owned and operated by the Austrian company Lauda-Air was the nation's largest charter operation and famed race car driver Niki Lauda's first foray into business after his retirement from racing.

The flight originated in Hong Kong and was ultimately headed to Vienna. After a brief stop in Bangkok, the plane was climbing out of Bangkok Airport when a computer malfunctioned. The thrust reverser on the port engine, which essentially puts the engine in reverse, deployed suddenly. Though pilots fought to override it, they were not able to do so.

Just 16 minutes after takeoff, the plane was sent plunging into the Thailand jungle 100 miles north of Bangkok. The 203 passengers and 20 crew members on board all died on impact. The plane's black box was destroyed, making the cause of the crash difficult to determine.

Niki Lauda immediately went to the site of the crash, where it was reported that he personally went through the strewn bodies and aircraft parts searching for evidence. Eventually, the mechanical evidence and a voice recorder pointed to a serious problem with the jet's thrust reverser. Boeing was forced to recall and modify the 767's thrust reversing system at the conclusion of the official investigation.

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