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The worst accident in the history of aviation happened on the Spanish Island of Tenerife on March 27 1977 when a KLM 747 taking off crashed into a Pan Am 747 that was still on the runway.

A long chain of events led up to the crash, but one of the major causes was that the captain of the KLM flight chose to ignore a crucial warning from his co-workers in the cockpit.

The KLM captain was no novice – in fact he was one of KLM’s most experienced pilots, the head of pilot safety training at KLM and featured in some of the company’s ads.

On the day of the crash the flight was already significantly delayed and any more delays would have forced the plane to stay on Tenerife overnight to comply with pilot rest requirements.

The captain, being eager to get off the ground, misheard an instruction from the control tower. He thought he was cleared for take off even though another plane was still on the runway, though he couldn’t see it in the heavy fog.

Then, and this is crucial, he ignored concerns from both his co-pilot and his flight engineer and proceeded to take off down the runway, eventually hitting the other plane. 583 people died.

As a result, “less experienced flight crew members were encouraged to challenge their captains when they believed something was not correct, and captains were instructed to listen to their crew and evaluate all decisions in light of crew concerns” (source).

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