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Pan Am Flight 214

Pan Am Flight 214
The aircraft involved in the crash, N709PA, before being delivered to Pan Am
Accident summary
Date December 8, 1963
Summary Lightning strike
Site Elkton, Maryland, United States
Passengers 73
Crew 8
Fatalities 81 (all)
Aircraft type Boeing 707-121
Aircraft name Clipper Tradewind
Operator Pan American World Airways
Registration N709PA
Flight origin Luis Muñoz Marín Int'l Airport
Stopover Baltimore/Washington Int'l Airport
Destination Philadelphia Int'l Airport

On December 8, 1963, Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707, crashed near Elkton, Maryland while en route from Baltimore to Philadelphia, after being hit by lightning, killing all 81 on board.[1]

The accident is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records (2005) as the "Worst Lightning Strike Death Toll."[2][nb 1]


  • Flight history 1
  • Investigation 2
  • Volatile fuel vapor recommendation 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes and citations 5
  • External links 6

Flight history

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 US 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]


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]

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

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 2] 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 determined to have been caused by the explosion of a volatile mixture inside a fuel tank.[8]

See also

Notes and citations

  1. ^ In 1971, LANSA Flight 508 was also brought down by a lightning strike. However, though this crash would have more total casualties (91 fatalities), up to fourteen passengers survived the crash but perished waiting for help in the Peruvian jungle.
  2. ^ 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). 
  2. ^ copy of Guinness Book of World Records entry for Pan Am flight 214
  3. ^ "FAA Registry". Federal Aviation Administration. 
  4. ^ McClement, Fred (1966). It Doesn't Matter Where You Sit. Toronto/Montreal: McClelland and Stewart. p. 19.  
  5. ^ a b Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 2006-06-12.
  6. ^ "Civil Aeronautics Board report". Retrieved 2006-06-12. 
  7. ^ McClement, p. 22.
  8. ^ TWA 800 NTSB AAR-00/03 Final Report, adopted August 23, 2000

External links

  • Civil Aeronautics Board reports (digitized versions).
  • A Pan American promotional film that features Clipper Tradewind (N709PA)
  • A picture of the aircraft involved in the accident (archived from the original on 2012-11-04)
  • Another picture of the accident aircraft
  • Another picture of the ill-fated 707
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