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When I hear speaking about aviation crashes, sometimes I hear about "accidents" and other times about "incidents".

What distinguishes them? Is there an international standard that determines how aviation crashes are classified or is it based on national regulations?

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There are indeed only two 'official' classifications of aviation incidents, which are defined in ICAO Annex 13.

Accident. An occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which:

a) a person is fatally or seriously injured as a result of

  • being in the aircraft, or

  • direct contact with any part of the aircraft, including parts which have become detached from the aircraft, or

  • direct exposure to jet blast,

except when the injuries are from natural causes, self inflicted or inflicted by other persons, or when the injuries are to stowaways hiding outside the areas normally available to the passengers and crew: or

b) the aircraft sustains damage or structural failure which:

  • adversely affects the structural strength, performance or flight characteristics of the aircraft, and

  • would normally require major repair or replacement of the affected component,

except for engine failure or damage. when the damage is limited to the engine, its cowlings or accessories: or for damage limited to propellers, wing tips, antennas, tires, brakes, fairings, small dents or puncture holes in the aircraft skin: or

c) the aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible.

Note I.-- For statistical uniformity only, an injury resulting in death within thirty days of the date of the accident is classified as a fatal injury by ICAO.

Note 2.-- An aircraft is considered to be missing when the official search has been terminated and the wreckage has not been located.

And then there is

Incident. An occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft which affects or could affect the safety of operation.

They do also define 'serious incident', but simply as an incident which was nearly an accident; which is still an 'incident' by the definition above.

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    $\begingroup$ Falstro, you beat me by minutes again. If you want to incorporate more sources: AvHerald FAQ, BFU FAQ and the SKYbrary. +1 for being faster and posting the same I was gonna quote... ;) $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Apr 15 '15 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven Cool :) First rep in months :D Yeah, AvHerald does list one more though, "Crash", which is not an official one. Crashes, even ones that completely obliterate the aircraft, are still labeled "accidents" in ICAO speak. $\endgroup$ – falstro Apr 15 '15 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ There's also NTSB 830 for notification. And interestingly enough, how much do you know about Accident and Incident reporting? aopa.org/asf/asfquiz/quizzes.cfm?SA=Quizzes&QuizId=100 $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 15 '15 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Shawn Note that NTSB 830 is only a US rule. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Apr 15 '15 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger, yes but if you're a pilot in the US, I believe it would supersede ICAO. Regardless, it pretty much says exactly the same thing. :-) $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 16 '15 at 15:16

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