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The Tenerife crash - March 27th, 1977

The controller was next heard talking to the KLM jumbo crew.

17 :02 :50 (Tenerife control tower to KLM 747) – KLM four eight zero five how many taxiway -ah- did you pass?

17 :02 :55 (KLM 4805) – I think we just passed charlie four (fourth one) now.

17 :02 :59 (Tenerife control tower) – O.K. ... at the end of the runway make one eighty and report -ah- ready -ah- for ATC clearance.

Both aircraft were still backtracking down the runway, but the PanAm 747 was lost in the fog, the latter making it very difficult to spot the exit taxiways. The control tower had confirmed earlier that the aircraft must exit the runway into the third taxiway.

17 :03 :48 (Tenerife control tower) – ...er seven one three six report leaving the runway.

17 :04 :59 (Tenerife control tower) – -m eight seven zero five and clipper one seven ... three six, for your information, the centre line lighting is out of service.

Both 747 minutes before the disaster
This picture was taken at the Tenerife airport, a few minutes prior to the crash. It shows both 747 that will collide in a few minutes. Foreground, the KLM one. Background, the PanAm one.

Yet more bad news. In addition, the crew of the PanAm 747 had just passed the third taxiway without seeing it. They had seen the first one, missed the second one, and were now passing the third one thinking it was the second one. They were now headed for the fourth one.

Meanwhile, the Dutch 747 had finished backtracking the runway and was now making a u-turn. The fog dissipated slightly and the visibility increased to 700 meters. This was an opportunity that the KLM captain wasn't about to miss.

17 :05 :45 (First officer to the control tower) – Uh, the KLM ... four eight zero five is now ready for take-off ... uh and we're waiting for our ATC clearance.

17 :05 :53 (Tenerife control tower) – KLM eight seven zero five uh you are cleared to the Papa Beacon climb to and maintain flight level nine zero right turn after take-off proceed with heading zero four zero until intercepting the three two five radial from Las Palmas VOR.

17 :06 :09 (KLM first officer) – Ah roger, sir, we're cleared to the Papa Beacon flight level nine zero, right turn out zero four zero until intercepting the three two five and we're now (at take-off ??).

The 747 obtained clearance, but was not allowed to take off as yet. However, its captain, in a hurry, started advancing the throttle, having forgotten that another aircraft was still taxiing down the runway. The stressful situation was probably to blame.

17 :06 :13 (Captain) : We gaan. (We're going)

17 :06 :19 (Tenerife control tower) : OK

The Panam first officer was talking simultaneously :

17 :06 :19 (PanAm first officer) : No .. eh...