IF you’re frightened of flying, then you should be scared to death of taking to the road in Thailand.
According to World Health Organization, some 24,000 people lose their lives annually on the kingdom’s roads, an average of about 66 per day. During the past 50 years, a mere 743 lives were lost in commercial aviation accidents and incidents.
The loss in terms of plane crashes seems almost insignificant when compared to Thailand’s roads, especially when you consider the current volume of traffic at Thailand’s 11 international and 22 other airports.Last year close to 56 million passengers on 336,354 flights transited through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport alone.
Since 1967, there have been 12 lethal aviation accidents in Thailand, resulting in the deaths of 657 passengers and 67 crew members, along with 19 people on the ground. The death toll excludes the four terrorists who hijacked a Garuda Indonesian flight in March 1981 and diverted it to Bangkok’s Don Muang International Airport, where they were killed by commandos. This was one of four hijackings involving Thai airspace.
The country’s worst air disaster was in 1991 when a Lauda Air Boeing 767-3Z9ER flight crashed, killing all 223 passengers from 18 countries, including 36 Thai nationals.
There were also a number of aviation-related incidents in which there were no fatalities, but in some of these cases, there were injuries. Mechanical malfunctions and pilot error have been blamed for various aviation accidents, but in many cases, the official findings have been disputed by concerned parties. A detailed account of the relatively few breaches of Thailand’s air safety record is given below.
August 4, 2009 (Flight PG 266)
A Bangkok Airways ATR72-212A flight carrying 68 passengers and four crew members on a domestic flight from Krabi International Airport veered off the runway and hit a not-in-use control tower building at Koh Samui Airport. The captain was killed and 10 people were seriously injured. The plane was totally destroyed and the airport was out of commission for two days.
September 16, 2007 (OG 269)
A One-Two-Go McDonnell Douglas MD-82 aircraft on a domestic flight from Don Muang International Airport crash-landed in bad weather at Phuket International Airport. The plane rose sharply over the runway, stalled, crashed into an embankment on one side of the runway and burst into flames. Five of seven crew members and 85 of the123 passengers were killed, including one who died in hospital due to burns a few days after the crash. Forty people were injured, many seriously, and the plane was completely destroyed.
March 3, 2001 (TF 114)
While preparing for a domestic flight from Don Muang to Chiang Mai International Airport, a Thai Airways International Boeing 737-4D7 was rocked by an explosion, followed by a fire. One flight attendant was killed and seven others were injured. The plane was completely gutted. Early reports indicated that the plane was destroyed by a bomb in an assassination attempt against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was due to board the plane shortly. However, authorities later said no explosives were found in the wreckage.
December 11, 1998 (TG 261)
A Thai Airways International Airbus A310-204 with a crew of 14 and 132 passengers left Don Muang on a domestic flight to Surat Thani Airport but stalled and crashed in a rice field on its third attempt to land during bad weather with low visibility. Eleven crew members and 90 passengers lost their lives. The plane was completely destroyed.
May 26, 1991 (NG 004)
A Lauda Air Boeing 767-3Z9ER flight that originated at Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong made a stop in Bangkok on its way to Vienna. Fifteen minutes after the plane departed Don Muang with 10 crew and 213 passengers, it stalled and went into an uncontrollable descent before breaking up and falling into the mountainous Phu Toei National Park in Suphan Buri province. All 223 passengers from 18 countries were killed, including 83 Austrians. Thirty-six Thai nationals lost their lives in the worst airline disaster in Thai history. An investigation concluded that the cause was the uncommanded deployment of a thrust reverser on the No. 1engine, resulting in a loss of control of the aircraft.
November 21, 1990 (PG 125)
A Bangkok Airways de Havilland Canada DHC-8-103 plane with five crew members and 33 passengers on a domestic flight from Don Muang to Koh Samui crashed during bad weather in the midst of a coconut plantation. Everyone on board was killed.
September 9, 1988 (VN 831)
A Tupolev TU-134A jet belonging to Hâng Không Viêt Nam (Vietnam Airlines) departed Hanoi-Noi-Bai International Airport for Don Muang. The aircraft encountered a heavy thunderstorm not far from Don Muang and was reportedly flying too low before crashing into a rice field in Lam Lu Ka district in Pathum Thani province. The plane disintegrated upon impact, with the debris covering about 500 metres. Three of the six crew members were killed and only 11 of the 84 passengers survived.
August 31, 1987 (TG 365)
A Thai Airways Boeing 737-2P5 plane with a crew of nine and 74 passengers on a domestic flight from Hat Yai International Airport to Phuket stalled during its descent to landing and crashed into the sea about15 kilometres from the airport. All 83 people on board died.
April 15, 1985
A Thai Airways Boeing 737-200 on a domestic flight from Don Muang to Phuket crashed into a mountain while descending. The plane was totally destroyed by the impact and fire that followed. All seven crew members and four passengers died. The aircraft apparently lost both engines.
April 27, 1980 (TG 231)
A Thai Airways Hawker Siddeley HS-748-207 Srs. 2 left Khon Kaen Airport en route to Don Muang and flew into a thunderstorm. The aircraft crashed about 10 kilometres northeast of Bangkok killing all four crew members and 40 passengers. Nine very lucky passengers survived.
December 25, 1976 (MS 864)
An Egypt Air Boeing 707-366C that departed from Cairo International Airport with 44 passengers and eight crew members crashed during landing into an industrial compound about two kilometres northeast from Don Muang. Everyone on board was killed, as were 19 people on the ground.
December 25, 1967 (TG 002)
A Thai Airways Douglas DC-3 carrying 28 passengers and four crew members crashed during landing about 200 metres from Chiang Mai airport. Two passengers and two crew members were killed.
Some non-lethal aviation mishaps
August 25, 2016 (Flight DD 8826)
A Nok Air de Havilland Dash 8-400 aircraft left Don Muang on a domestic flight to Nan Airport with 81 passengers. While climbing out of Don Muang the inboard left-hand main tyre burst. The plane immediately returned to Don Muang where it landed safely.
June 17, 2016 (DD 7313)
A Nok Air ATR-72-212A on a domestic flight from Ranong to Don Muang carrying 62 passengers and four crew was climbing out of Ranong when a bird hit the captain’s windshield. As no damage was seen by the crew at first, the plane continued in its flight. However, a short time later cracks developed in the windshield and the crew diverted the aircraft to Chumphon Airport, where the plane landed safely.
August 30, 2015 (DD 7805)
A Nok Air Boeing 737-800 on the domestic route from Nakhon Si Thammarat Airport to Don Muang was climbing with 139 passengers and six crew members when a large bird was sucked into one engine. The plane was diverted to Surat Thani Airport, where it landed safely.
August 31, 2014 (DD 7805)
During a Nok Air Boeing 737-800 flight from Nakhon Si Thammarat to Don Muang was climbing with 139 people on board, the plane flew into a flock of birds receiving a number of bird strikes. The plane was diverted to Surat Thani where it safely landed.
October 6, 2013 (DD 8610)
A Nok Mini Airlines Saab 340B aircraft on a domestic flight out of Chiang Mai with three crew members and 25 passengers veered off the runway during its landing at Udon Thani International Airport, causing the nose landing gear to collapse. The pilot took the decision to hit the earthen wall on the side of the runway, bringing the plane to stop. Damage to the plane was extensive.
September 8, 2013 (TG 679)
A Thai Airways International Airbus A330-321 with 288 passengers and 14 crew members arriving from Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in China veered off the runway during landing at Suvarnabhumi, causing the nose gear to collapse. About a dozen passengers were slightly injured and transported to the hospital. The damage to the aircraft was substantial.
August 6, 2013 (DD 7411)
While accelerating on the runway prior to takeoff at Trang Airport, a Nok Air Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 142 passengers and crew veered off the runway and came to a stop on soft ground on the side of the runway. All passengers had to disembark on the runway.
May 30, 2013 (DD 8714)
A Nok Air Boeing 737-800 on the domestic route from Don Muang to Chiang Rai lost its right-hand nose wheel during flight. The plane with 162 people on board experienced strong vibrations in an emergency landing but was able to come to a safe stop on the remaining left-hand nose wheel.
August 3, 2008
A Boeing 747-481D All Nippon Airways craft being cleaned at a maintenance facility at Don Muang was damaged beyond repair when a cleaning agent burst into flames in the cargo area of the plane. The plane was damaged beyond repair.
September 11, 2005 (VAP 326)
A Phuket Air NAMC YS-11-500R aircraft on a domestic flight from Don Muang with four crew members and 24 passengers skidded off a runway while landing at Mae Sot Airport. The plane hit a fence and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
September 23, 1999 (QF 1)
While making a stopover en route from Sydney to London, a Qantas Boeing 747-438 with 410 passengers and 19 crew members overran the runway during landing at Don Muang. The plane collided with a ground radio antenna and careened about 200 metres before coming to a stop with its nose on the airport perimeter road. The plane was severely damaged and about 38 people suffered minor injuries during the evacuation.
October 22, 1994
A Thai Airways International Airbus A300B4-103 was damaged beyond repair after its right wing was hit by the nose of Thai Airways MD-11. The plane was performing an engine run-up when it apparently went out-of-control, overrunning the parking block at Don Muang airport.
October 25, 1993
The nose wheel fell off a Sahakol Air Embraer EMB-11OP2 Bandeirante during takeoff on a test flight from Don Muang. Only the two pilots were aboard the plane, which returned for an emergency landing. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
April 28, 1987
A Thai Airways Hawker Siddeley HS-748-243 Srs. 2 on a domestic flight from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai experienced problems when its landing gear didn’t open. The plane stopped beside the runway with all four crew members and 39 passengers safe.
June 21, 1980
Thai Airways Hawker Siddeley HS-748-243 Sr.2 with 3 crew members and 18 passengers on domestic couldn’t get airborne and overrun the runway at Chiang Rai and stopped on the banks of a stream. No one was injured, but the plane was beyond repair.
September 1, 1979
While en route from Hanoi-Noi Bai International Airport to Vientiane-Wattay Aiport, a Lao Aviation Antonov AN 26 aircraft with 68 passengers and six crew members lost its way in a storm. The plane ran out of fuel and safely made an emergency landing in a cornfield near Ban Mai village inside Thailand.
September 5, 1973
Shortly after Air Vietnam Boeing 727-121C took off from Don Muang en route to Saigon-Tan Son Nhat International Airport with 48 passengers, an explosion occurred in the galley of the aircraft, injuring two stewardess and two passengers. The plane returned immediately to Don Muang and landed safely. The blast was caused by a defective broiler in the galley and not by a bomb blast as initially suspected. The plane was repaired and returned to service.
May 7, 1971
During landing at Mae Hong Son Airport, a Thai Airways Douglas DC-3 on a domestic flight gave everyone on board a scare when the main wheels of the plane struck the edge of the runway. The plane bounced, veered to the left of the runway and stopped near a concrete wall. None of the four crew members and 17 passengers was injured but the plane was declared a total loss.
July 9, 1969
A Thai Airways International Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle III plane with a crew of seven and 68 passengers took off from Hong Kong and was approaching Don Muang in very bad weather when the ISL (Instrument Landing System) failed. The plane made a “heavy landing”, forcing the main gear through the wings. No one was injured, but the plane was reportedly damaged beyond repair.
October 6, 1981
wo Myanmar nationals commandeered a Myanmar Airways Fokker F-28 during a flight from Myeik Airport in Myanmar to Yangon. The hijackers carried two explosive devices and made political demands. The plane landed at what was then called U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield in Rayong province, where the hijackers were arrested by Thai police and all 85 passengers were released unharmed.
January 18, 1983
During a domestic flight from Phitsanulok Airport to Chiang Mai, three armed men with knives hijacked a Thai Airways Shorts 330-200 aircraft and diverted it to Chiang Rai Airport. The hijackers negotiated with authorities and were presented with a pickup truck in which they escaped into the countryside with seven hostages. The hostages were subsequently robbed and released. Two hijackers were later captured, but there is no information on what happened to the third.
June 30, 1982
An Alitalia Boeing 747-243B with 260 occupants and crew was hijacked by a Sri Lankan male after the plane left Delhi-Palam Airport in India. The plane landed at Don Muang, and the man held all passengers hostage. He threatened to blow up the aircraft and demanded US$ 300,000 and to be reunited with his wife and child who were in Italy. The hijacker released a few passengers and two escaped. All remaining passengers were set free after the man’s wife and child came aboard and the ransom was paid. He family was then flown to Sri Lanka, where the hijacker was arrested and sentenced to 20 years to life.
March 28, 1981 (GA 206)
Five heavily armed Indonesia men belonged to the Islamic extremist group known as Komando Jihad hijacked Garuda Indonesia Airways Mc Donnell Dougles DC-9-32 plane during an internal flight between Palembang Airport in Jakarta and Medan-Polonia Airport in Medan. Five crew members and 48 passengers were on board.
The hijackers demanded the release of 80 of their comrades held in Indonesian jails, US$ 1.5 million and a plane to take the prisoners to an unspecified destination. They forced the plane to land in Penang, Malaysia, where one hysterical woman was released. The plane took off again and entered Thai airspace, finally landing at Don Muang.
After three days about 20 Indonesian Kopassandha (now Kopassus) commandos received permission from the Thai government to storm the plane. Four hijackers were killed by the Indonesian commandos while Royal Thai Air Force commandos secured the tarmac to make sure none of the hijackers escaped.
One pilot and an Indonesian commando died later at Bhumibol hospital in Bangkok, and two passengers, one an American, were injured during the siege and were treated in hospital. All other passengers and crew made it through the harrowing ordeal safely. The leader of the hijackers, Imran bin Muhammad Zein, was captured, brought back to Indonesia and sentenced to death by a court in Jakarta.
From 1967 to 2017 there was a number of aviation accidents and mishaps involving Thai military or police aircraft in non-combat situations. The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) was involved in at least 26 of these incidents; the Royal Thai Navy in two; and the Royal Thai Police in one. These incidents resulted in the deaths of 58 flight crew members plus four ground personnel.
In addition, there were even non-combat incidents involving US Air Force (USAF) aircraft, resulting in the deaths of 30 flight crew and four ground crew. The USAF deployed to combat and supporting aircraft at several Thai air bases from 1961 to 1975. Planes based in Thailand went on bombing runs over South and North Vietnam and also Laos and Cambodia in what is known as America’s “Secret War.”
One Air America Dougles VC-47A operated by the Central Intelligence Agency crash-landed at U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield on April 29, 1975. The aircraft had taken off in Saigon while Viet Cong was taking over the city.
The list of military-related aviation incidents given above is incomplete. There have been a number of crashes and other accidents involving combat aircraft and trainers and helicopters belonging to the RTFA, other branches of the Thai military and USAF aircraft. It is difficult to assess the exact number.
Recently an RTAF Swedish-made Saab Jas 39 multirole fighter burst into flames after it took a nose dive during the Children’s Day air show at Hat Yai airport on January 14. The pilot, 34-year-old Group Captain Dilokrit Patawee, didn’t eject and was killed.