• The United States military has experienced numerous aircraft fatalities throughout its history.
  • Surprisingly, one of the deadliest incidents involved an airship, the USS Akron, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean during a thunderstorm.
  • The deadliest event in US military aviation history occurred during the Battle of Kham Duc in 1968, where a Lockheed C-130B Hercules was shot down.

The United States Armed Forces have been around since before the country's inception in 1776. Specifically, the United States Air Force was founded in 1947, but the United States Navy began operating aircraft in 1911. Other branches have also been operating aircraft throughout their history. Because of the US Armed Forces' extensive history, it is unfortunate yet unsurprising that the United States has experienced several fatalities due to airplane crashes over the years. But which United States military aviation incidents have resulted in the most fatalities?

10 Boeing C-97 over the Pacific Ocean

The tenth-deadliest accident in US military history resulted in the death of 67 total people. On March 22, 1957, a Boeing C-97C, registered as 50-702, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. The aircraft was flying from Wake Island Airport on the US Minor Outlying Islands en route to Tokyo-Yokota Air Force Base. All ten crew and 57 passengers were presumed dead as the aircraft damaged beyond repair.

9 USS Akron

Interestingly enough, the ninth-deadliest aviation incident on the list is actually an airship. The USS Akron was a helium-filled rigid airship, a part of the United States Navy that began operation in 1931. It was also the world's first flying aircraft carrier and carried F9C Sparrowhawk fighters that were launched and recovered while in flight.

The eventual end of the airship occurred in 1933 when a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey brought the aircraft down into the Atlantic Ocean. 73 of the 76 crewmen aboard the airship perished in the incident.

8 Fairchild 123K in Khanh Phu

On November 27, 1970, a Fairchild C-123K was approaching Nha Trang Air Base. However, due to poor visibility, the aircraft crashed into terrain. The accident resulted in the death of six US crewmen and 73 South Vietnamese, who were being transported by the military transport vehicle.

7 Boeing C-135 in Angeles City

A Stratolifter used by the United States Air Force took off from Honolulu-Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii. However, while it was on approach to Angeles City-Clark Air Base in the Philippines, the aircraft descended below its given glide path. The pilot had the runway in his sight, so he attempted to land at the base. The bottom of the Boeing C-135 struck a perimeter fence and ran into a navigation facility. The aircraft slid across the road before breaking into pieces and catching fire. This crash resulted in the death of five crew members and 74 passengers, in addition to one person on the ground.

6 Boeing C-135 in Santiago Canyon

Another Boeing C-135 crashed on April 25, 1965. This aircraft crashed due to a pilot failing to make a left turn after its initial takeoff from El Toro. The pilot was unable to see due to a thunderstorm affecting visibility, and the aircraft would eventually run into Loma Ridge. After breaking into several pieces, the aircraft burst into flames. This crash resulted in 84 casualties, including 12 crew members and 72 other military personnel.

5 Fairchild C-123B

The fifth-deadliest accident in US military history occurred near Tuy Hoa, Vietnam. On December 11, 1965, a Fairchild C-123 clipped some trees as it approached the airport.

A Fairchild C-123B flying in the sky.
Photo: BlueBarronPhoto | Shutterstock

The plane entered a spin and eventually crashed, killing four US airmen and 81 South Vietnamese paratroopers.

4 Moses Lake C-124

On December 20, 1952, a Douglas C-124 Globemaster II was flying to Kelly Air Force Base from Larson Air Force Base near Moses Lake. Seconds after takeoff, the plane's left wing struck the ground. The force resulted in the plane rolling down the runway, eventually exploding. Further investigation revealed that the elevator and rudder gust locks had never been disengaged prior to the departure. The crash resulted in 87 total fatalities, although 28 passengers survived the incident.

3 Tachikawa C-124

The Tachikawa Air Disaster also involved a Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. Just one minute after takeoff from Tachikawa, Japan, the aircraft's left engine burst into flames. The engine was immediately shut down, but this reduced the plane's power significantly. As a result, the left wing stalled and forced the aircraft into an unrecoverable dive. The aircraft crashed into a watermelon patch just over 3.5 miles from the airbase and immediately exploded on impact. The crash resulted in the deaths of all 129 crew and passengers.

2 Tan Son Nhut C-5

The second-deadliest incident in the US military aviation industry took place on April 4, 1975. A Lockheed C-5A Galaxy had taken off en route to Clark Air Base from Tan Son Nhut Air Base. When the aircraft reached about 23,000 feet, the locks on the rear loading ramp failed, launching the rear door open. The cabin immediately decompressed and was filled with debris and smoke. The pilots attempted to regain control of the plane and return to the base. Unfortunately, the C-5A could not be recovered completely as it bounced across the Saigon River. The aircraft broke into four pieces and caught on fire. There were 176 survivors, but the crash resulted in 138 fatalities.

1 Kham Duc C-130

The deadliest event in US military aviation history involved a US Air Force Lockheed C-130B Hercules. During the Battle of Kham Duc on May 12, 1968, the aircraft was evacuating civilians from the Kham Duc campsite.

A C130 Hercules about to land.
Photo: Paul Drabot | Shutterstock

The aircraft took off from the area and headed North before being met by concentrated anti-aircraft fire and heavy fire from machine guns. The shooting resulted in the aircraft spinning out of control and crashing into a ravine less than a mile from where it took off. All crew and passengers died, resulting in 189 total fatalities.

Additionally, the Arrow Air Flight 1285R would be considered the deadliest US military crash. However, this flight was an international charter and so was registered as a commercial accident. This incident involved a McDonnell Douglas DC-8 transporting US Army personnel from Cairo, Egypt, to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Ice contamination on the wing's leading edges caused the aircraft to stall unexpectedly and crash half a mile from the runway. It resulted in the deaths of 248 passengers and eight crew members.