London - Three fatal airline crashes in a week mean 2014 is shaping up to become the worst year in almost a decade for passenger fatalities.
The disappearance of a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft on the fringes of the Sahara desert on Thursday follows the loss of an ATR-72 turboprop in storms in Taiwan on Wednesday and the downing of Malaysian Air Flight MH17 over Ukraine last week.
The African incident involving a plane operating for Air Algerie takes the potential 2014 toll to 680 travellers, assuming those on the jet died, higher than 12-month totals for the past three years, according to air-safety consultants at Ascend Worldwide. With five months remaining, a further 111 deaths would make this the most lethal year since 2005, when 916 lives were lost, though Ascend's head of safety Paul Hayes said the direction in accident-related fatalities is still down.
“It's important to look at the long term trends,” Hayes said in an interview. “What looks likes a 'good' or 'bad' year - let alone just seven months - by itself means nothing. Fatal accidents are now so rare that one or two more can completely change the numbers.”
Fatalities in 2014 involving aircraft seating more than 14 people have come in six incidents, compared with 162 deaths in 10 incidents in 2013, he said.
Only three of this year's events appear to be accidents of the kind that would ordinarily be included in Ascend's safety analysis, which excludes war and terror-related losses beyond airlines' control, Hayes said.
The disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight 70 after the Boeing 777 doubled back on its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and disappeared over the India Ocean may have involved pilot malpractice, experts have said.
About 227 passengers were travelling on the March 8 service.
Malaysian Air Flight 17, which crashed a week ago on Thursday, killing all 283 passengers, was most likely downed by a ground- to-air missile strike in eastern Ukraine, the United States has said.
Black-box flight recorders from the plane, also a 777, are undergoing analysis in Britain, with the examination of bodies also under way as experts seek evidence of the rocket attack.
Another incident classified as non-accidental saw a woman killed on a Pakistan International Airlines flight after the Airbus Group A310 jet with 196 passengers aboard came under fire while landing in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The incident came two weeks after a Taliban attack on Pakistan's biggest airport in Karachi killed 36 people, none on aircraft.
The three other fatal events involved crashes more typical of airline accidents over the decades, with 44 passengers killed Wednesday when a TransAsia Airways Corp. ATR-72 came down as it prepared to land on Taiwan's outlying Penghu Islands.
The turboprop was on a second approach to Magong Airport when it went down amid heavy rains from tropical storm Matmo.
About 110 passengers were aboard the flight from Ouagadougou to Algiers lost over the northern Sahel today and thought to have crashed somewhere in Mali. The plane's flight crew asked air traffic controllers for permission to divert to avoid a storm about 40 minutes after takeoff, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo told reporters.
About 15 travellers also died when a Nepal Airlines de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop plane crashed into jungle on a 7 000-foot hillside in poor weather on February 16. - Washington Post