The Most Popular Posts in 2020

1 Jan 21 4 Comments

Every year I take a look at the most popular posts of the year, by which I mean the posts most read in that year, regardless of when they were posted. Intriguingly, this year it was a number of older posts that attracted the most attention, possibly a result of the world having much more time to browse the Internet in search of entertainment. The posts that rose to the top this year are mostly historical posts about crashes which are known in the mainstream.

10. Mozambique (LAM) flight 470: Pilot Suicide

This 2013 crash is a chilling controlled flight into terrain where the captain appears to have deliberately placed the aircraft into a steep descent and crashing into the ground. I have thought about writing a series on these terrible murder/suicide cases but I’m worried of frightening people who already believe that these cases are much more common than they actually are. I’m not sure what brought this particular article into the public eye, only that it suddenly became popular in November.

9. The Odd Story of Richard Floyd McCoy Jr

The story of DB Cooper’s heist is well-known but I had never heard of Richard McCoy Jr who hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1972 shortly after Dan Cooper disappeared. This seems to me to have been a copycat crime which was not as meticulously executed; McCoy was arrested three days later and almost all of the money was recovered. However, there are many (including some of my commenters) who believe that he was Dan Cooper, caught when trying to get away with a second heist.

8. Which Way is Up? John F Kennedy Jr Plane Crash

This is the most obvious of the well-known crashes that received attention this year, even though the crash was twenty years ago and I didn’t get around to writing it until 2015. I always thought I knew all the important points about this headline-making crash until I read the NTSB report, where I discovered there was a lot more detail than I had realised. Not surprisingly, this one has quite a heated collection of comments.

7. Sex and Skydiving and the FAA

This is the oldest of the top ten, with an article I wrote in 2011 about an FAA investigation into an incident where two skydivers were identified in a sexually explicit video of intercourse in the plane and continuing through a skydive. The post was mentioned in a NSWF article in VICE about exhibitionist sex in public places despite the fact that neither of my links to the video still worked. I had decided not to track down working versions of the video on the basis that it would simply be for titillation value and wasn’t really on subject for my site, so I’m guessing there were a lot of VICE readers disappointed by Fear of Landing.

I have submitted stories to VICE in the past for their science fiction slot but this was the first time my work actually appeared in the magazine. Not quite what I was hoping for.

6. Sichuan flight 8633 blown windshield

I was very lucky that a Chinese aviation professional, Shimin, translated a number of Chengdu Business News articles into English, giving us terrific access to the event and the aftermath. Since then, the final report has been released, unfortunately there is no English version. Apparently, the report concludes that the seal on the right side of the windshield was damaged as the result of windshield and exacerbated by pressure changes until the entire windshield burst open.

5. Draco Written Off

I was so sad to discover that Draco, a single-engine aircraft designed by Mike Patey, was destroyed in a split second after a hasty decision to take off in a cross-wind. Patey discussed the crash in a follow-up video, explaining exactly what had happened, which I thought was very brave. Patey is building a new aircraft and documenting it on his YouTube channel. As one commenter put it,

All over the world we are carefully following the construction of “OUR” new aircraft. I can’t wait to see it fly.

4. “N28V, I need your call sign, please.”

This is the only article posted in 2020 which made the top ten of the year. I wrote about an amazing air traffic controller who won an Archie award for keeping an aircraft on the ground. He was contacted by a pilot preparing for departure who didn’t sound like he was entirely sober. This article includes the audio of the interactions and my own not-always-helpful translations of the controller’s subtext.

3. The Mystery of Northwest Orient Flight 2501

This was the first draft of a chapter of the first book of my Without a Trace series which shares aviation mysteries from 1881-1968. As a part of this project, I discovered that posting articles was a useful way of “pre-writing” a book and often led to useful comments which allowed me to investigate additional information for the book. Originally published in 2015, I’m not sure what caused it to gain in popularity this year.

2. Piper Comanche Full of Arrows

This is a perennial favourite where, as far as I can see, someone posts the meme version of the image and then another person follows up with a link to my explanation of the context of the image. It makes me happy to feel like I’m offering a service to the Internet, although I do sometimes wish they’d stay a while…

1. The Story Behind an Unbelievable Photograph

This seven-year-old article is back in the top position, with a number of posts on Facebook and Reddit sharing it with new audiences. The article was also added to the German Wikipedia page on the English Electric Lightning as additional reading, which is neat. I love this particular post because it has the most amazing comment thread, which I highly recommend reading. (I think I say this every year.)

It’s very odd for nine out of ten of the most popular posts to be old posts. I am choosing to believe that 2020 was simply a very odd year in which a very large number of people were searching for information on accidents which they had heard of but perhaps never had the time to investigate further. It might also be the case that I am looking for more complicated incidents for discussion, making it harder for new audiences to get involved.

Some other stats that you might enjoy: in 2020 I posted 52 posts and a total of 87,162 words.

The most popular day and time to read the website is Sunday at 21:00 GMT. The most popular month was February when The Story Behind an Unbelievable Photograph was shared on multiple Facebook pages and Sex and Skydiving and the FAA appeared in Vice.

You have also accomplished a lot this year. There were 699 comments, the highest count in the fifteen years that I’ve been running the site. Considering that in 2006 there were no comments at all and in 2007 there was only one single comment, I think that shows quite an improvement, so well done!

Thank you so much for all of the lovely holiday wishes. I’m looking forward to spending another year with you.

Category: Miscellaneous,


  • And again thank you Sylvia for your great contributions to aviation stories that we, your readers, all enjoy.
    I wish everyone, Sylvia and her audience, a very happy, safe and covid-free New Year.
    Of course, accidents are great material for the stories, but still: I do hope that there will be none this year 2021.
    With the ongoing reduction in airline operations, this should (and hopefully will) result in a marked reduction in accidents and serious incidents.
    As an aviation safety expert, questioned about whether it is possible to make aviation 100% safe, replied: “Yes… by stopping all aviation.”

    • I reckon we could go two years without an incident before I would run out of material and that’s without exploring historical cases, so I’m up for this. But I rather suspect that the unexpected downtime will cause a number of new issues as a result of parked aircraft, currency issues and lack of staffing.

  • 2020 started with an Ukranian airliner shot down above Teheran and a VIP helicopter crashing in L.A. — let’s hope 2021 sets off on a more positive note!
    On December 29th, 2020, American Airlines resumed 737max operations: will that type be in the news again this year?

    (I spotted an editing mistake in item 6.)

  • I do love my weekly treat every Saturday – the case is always beautifully written as well as given in enough depth to make one think without confusing. I do think that you are a superbly talented writer, researcher and aviation nut.

    Older cases may come up with higher scores because they simply have had more chance to be seen.

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