It’s a nightmare scenario: a jetliner experiences turbulence in the air, shakes violently, and plummets to the ground or the ocean.
Fortunately, it’s a relatively rare situation. For the average American, the risk of dying in a plane crash is about one in 45 million, the New York Times reports.
Globally, there were only 23 deadly accidents and 475 fatalities, even though in the U.S. alone there were approximately 9 million flights in 2012 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Still, accidents do happen – here are the five most common causes of fatal plane crashes over the last decade, according to the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE).
1. Loss of Control in-flight
The number one threat to airline safety is when pilots lose control of the plane, resulting in about 35% of all airline fatalities, according to ICATEE.
It most commonly occurs when the pilot is slowing down the plane because of errors in the flight control system, when the pilot gets spacially disorientated, or when there’s icing on the plane, the ICATEE says.
2. Controlled Flight Into Terrain
Another common pilot error, this occurs when pilots fly the plane manually, and for various reasons are unaware of the plane’s environment, usually because of lacking visibility, the FAA says.
Most commonly, pilots of descending aircraft are unaware of mountains below, and crash into ridges or peaks.
3. System Component Failure, Non-Powerplant
Purely a mechanical failure, this is when a part of the plane that is not related to the power supply fails, causing a loss of control.
4. Runway Incursion – Landing
This occurs when a plane is landing on the runway. The most common causes of this are either collisions with something on the runway, or the pilot under/overestimating speed, according to ICATEE.
As scary as it may sound, more than 500 airline fatalities between 2000 and 2009 were the result of causes that were unknown and undetermined. In 2014 Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing with 227 passengers and 12 crew. Though many theories have been proposed to explain its disappearance, the cause remains unknown.