August 6

This Day in History

Disaster

Aug 6, 1997:

Planes crashes in Guam jungle

A Korean Air Boeing 747 crashes in Guam, killing 228 people on this day in 1997. An inexperienced crew and poor air-traffic policies on the island territory contributed to the disaster.

Flight 801, carrying 254 passengers and crew members from Seoul, South Korea, came in toward Guam at about 1:40 a.m. in the midst of a rainstorm. The captain and pilot of the plane had already flown several flights during the day and were beginning to show signs of fatigue. Ordinarily, a tired pilot has several backup systems to prevent crashes, but, on this night, there were no such protections.

The plane's minimum safe altitude warning system was not operational due to computer software problems. In addition, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the A.B. Won Guam International Airport in Agana, had not maintained the air-traffic infrastructure properly--only one localizer, a device that shows where a plane is in relation to the runway, was working that night. Furthermore, many believe that the private air-traffic controllers employed at the airport following the notorious 1981 strike were not as vigilant and effective as the former controllers.

Flight 801 missed the runway by several miles and slammed into the jungle, killing nearly everyone onboard. Remarkably, rescue workers managed to make their way through the thick jungle at night, rescuing the 22 passengers and 3 crew members who were still alive.

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