Narrative:At 12:30 a bomb explodes in the Las Palmas passenger terminal. Because of warnings of a possible second bomb, the airport was closed. A large number of flights were diverted to Tenerife, a.o. KLM Flight 4805 from Amsterdam and PanAm Flight 1736 (coming from Los Angeles and New York).
Las Palmas Airport opened to traffic again at 15:00.
Because the PanAm passengers remained on aboard it was possible to leave Tenerife at once. The taxiways were congested by other aircraft however. This meant the PanAm crew had to backtrack on runway 12 for takeoff on runway 30. The entrance to runway 12 however, was blocked by the KLM Boeing. The PanAm flight had to wait for almost 2 hours before all KLM passengers (except 1) had reboarded and refueling had taken place.
The KLM flight was then cleared to backtrack runway 12 and make a 180deg. turn at the end. Three minutes later (at 17:02) Pan Am 1736 was cleared to follow the KLM aircraft and backtrack runway 12. The PanAm crew were told to leave the runway at the third taxiway and report leaving the runway. At 17:05:44
KLM 4805 reported ready for takeoff and was given instructions for a Papa beacon departure. The KLM crew repeated the instructions and added "We are now at takeoff". The brakes were released and KLM 4805 started the takeoff roll.
Tenerife tower, knowing that Pan Am 1736 was still taxiing down the runway replied "OK ...... Stand by for takeoff, I will call you." This message coincided with the PanAm crew's transmission "No ... uh we're still taxiing down the runway, the Clipper 1736". These communications caused a shrill noise in the KLM cockpit, lasting approx. 3.74 seconds.
Tenerife tower replied: "Papa Alpha 1736 report runway clear.", whereupon the PanAm crew replied: "OK, will report when we're clear". This caused some concerns with the KLM flight engineer asking the captain: "Is he not clear then?" After repeating his question the captain answers emphatically: "Oh, yes".
A number of second before impact the KLM crew saw the PanAm Boeing still taxiing down the runway. The crew tried to climb away and became airborne after a 65 feet tail drag in an excessive rotation.
The PanAm crew immediately turned the aircraft to the left and applied full power. The KLM aircraft was airborne, but the fuselage skidded over the PanAm's aft fuselage, destroying it and shearing off the tail. The KLM aircraft flew on and crashed out of control 150 m further on, sliding another 300 m bursting into flames.
PROBABLE CAUSE: "The KLM aircraft had taken off without take-off clearance, in the absolute conviction that this clearance had been obtained, which was the result of a misunderstanding between the tower and the KLM aircraft.
This misunderstanding had arisen from the mutual use of usual terminology which, however, gave rise to misinterpretation. In combination with a number of other coinciding circumstances, the premature take-off of the KLM aircraft resulted in a collision with the Pan Am aircraft, because the latter was still on the runway since it had missed the correct intersection."
» Flight Safety Digest July 1995(1-10)/Flight Safety Foundation
» ICAO Circular 153-AN/56 (p.22-68) Human factors report on the Tenerife accident / Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)
» 'Tenerife report blames KLM', Flight International 23.12.78 (2240)
» 'Tenerife: the last analysis', Flight International 20.01.1979 (194-196)
Official accident investigation report
This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not
display the exact flight path.
Distance from Tenerife-Norte Los Rodeos Airport to Las Palmas-Airport de Gran Canaria as the crow flies is 111 km (69 miles).