Tenerife 583

The number of people who lost their lives in the deadliest aviation disaster in history is 583.

On the 27th of March 1977, a Pan Am Boeing 747 from the USA and a KLM 747 from Amsterdam collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport on the Spanish island of Tenerife. In unanticipated and pressurised circumstances a series of events, decisions and conversations contributed to the crash with catastrophic consequences.

In this hard-hitting dramatisation we investigate events leading up to the disaster, including the influence of established patterns of behaviour and power.

This multimedia programme brings to life the facts of the incident, highlighting the role of leadership.

Leadership Styles | Team Dynamics & Empowerment | System Failure | Psychological Safety


ALAN: We will never know exactly what was going through Captain van Zanten’s mind when he made the decision to take-off. But it is simply not credible that he deliberately took off into the path of another aircraft. I prefer to believe that he responded to the stresses of the day – the diversion, fatigue, the risk of running out of duty time, the weather – by focussing so much on his task that he shut out the others from his decision-making process.

BILL: The opposite of group-think?

ALAN: No actually, part of the same thing. Circumstances had built into what felt like a crisis, and during a crisis, criticism and dissent tend to be set aside until later.

CARL: You mean the others left all the decision making to the Captain?

ALAN: They left the ultimate decision to him, even though they were uneasy about it.

BILL: I can understand a group facing a crisis leaving a difficult decision to a leader in a boardroom. But not in a 300 ton aircraft full of people.

CARL: People defer to power.