Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010
Onlookers were shocked when a routine passenger flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended with the small, packed plane falling out of the sky "like a leaf". Almost everyone perished, but fortunately one survivor was able to shed light on what had happened.
Apparently, a small crocodile - just a few feet in length - had emerged from a holdall as the plane was coming in to land. It triggered a stampede of frightened passengers to the cockpit, and the sudden weight shift fatally destabilized the plane. Carrying animals on flights is in fact fairly normal in the region, but they're usually innocuous creatures like chickens - nobody could have imagined a crocodile appearing on board.
During a regular commercial flight from Moscow to Hong Kong, one of the pilots decided to treat his kids - and ignore strict regulations - by letting them take his seat at the controls. His 12-year-old daughter was first. Then, with the autopilot still safely on, her 16-year-old brother had his turn.
Without realizing it, the teenager exerted just enough pressure on the yoke (that is, the main "steering wheel" of the plane) to switch off the autopilot. By the time the pilots realized what was happening the plane was already out of control, and seconds later it crashed into a hillside with 75 dead.
It later transpired that if the pilots hadn't fought to steady the plane manually, the autopilot would have kicked back in and the crash could have been averted.
A wedding in Tuscany took an unexpected turn when the bride announced that, rather than tossing the bouquet herself, she'd hired someone to throw it down onto the crowd from a light aircraft.
Everyone gathered to watch the plane take to the skies, but delight turned to shock when the dropped bouquet was sucked back into the plane's engine, causing it to explode. Expelling black fumes, the plane swooped down and crashed into a nearby building, breaking both the legs of the bouquet-thrower.
Incredibly, neither the pilot nor anybody on the ground was injured or killed.
United States, 1991
Staff at an airfield in Florida were appalled when they saw a flying lesson end in disaster before their eyes. The light aircraft wobbled and then literally broke apart in mid-air, with the deaths of both student and instructor - the latter being an experienced army pilot who'd served in the Vietnam war.
A report into the crash stated that they were found in a state of voluntary undress, and that the "front right seat was in the full aft reclining position". In other words, it had been turned into a bed. Apparently, the occupants had decided to make love during the lesson, and this "improper in-flight decision" caused the plane to enter a dive. The uncontrolled velocity then tore a wing off and opened up the fuselage "like a can opener", in the words of the sheriff's department.
Dominican Republic, 1996
In 1996, a commercial flight from the Dominican Republic to Germany got off to an unusual start when the pilot noticed his air speed indicator wasn't making sense. He made the fateful decision to go ahead with the trip anyway, and soon after take-off things got worse as the indicator carried on behaving erratically, triggering incorrect responses from the autopilot.
Within minutes, the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone on board. But this was no ordinary technical malfunction. It's now generally agreed that a pitot tube - a special opening used to measure air speed - had been colonized by wasps. Specifically, black and yellow mud dauber wasps, which have an affinity for cylindrical spaces exactly like pitot tubes. Their nest had blocked the opening, leading to the fatal readings. Ironically, these particular wasps are actually docile in nature and rarely sting humans.