June 28, 2022
Airways Top 10 Greatest Emergency Landings
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Airways Top 10 Greatest Emergency Landings

plane landing on runway

DALLAS – There have been some incredible piloting feats that have saved the lives of hundreds of passengers when catastrophes were imminent.

We take a look at some of the most well-known emergency landings that have taken place in the last few decades, here ordered by date.

Air Canada (AC) Flight 143

A Boeing 767 ran out of fuel on a cross-Canada flight from Ottawa to Edmonton on July 23, 1983, forcing both engines to shut down at an altitude of 41,000 feet.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the near-disaster in the air was caused by a blunder on the ground: with the airline’s Fuel Quantity Information System having problems to do with imperial-to-metric units, ground crews loaded the jet with barely half the fuel it needed for the voyage.

Captain Robert Pearson, a glider pilot with the help of Maurice Quintal, piloted the plane to a decommissioned Canadian Air Force base in Gimli, Manitoba, which was swarming with go-carts and jubilant crowds owing to a family celebration at the time. However, the base was immediately vacated, and the jet glided to safety with all 61 passengers unharmed, save for two minor injuries and nose damage. The flight was to be known as the “Gimli Glider.”

At the time, the ATC at Winnipeg was still equipped with a large, high-power military “skin-paint” radar system and a more modern transponder system. They lit that up in order to be able to see the altitude, range, and bearing of the aircraft as it no longer had a transponder and was not visible on the regular ATC system. A lucky break for the pilots.

The controller was able to give Quintal good readings on his range and bearing as well as height above ground, so Maurice Quintal was able to calculate their descent rate and forward speed in addition to position.

China Airlines (CA) Flight 006

China Airlines Flight 006 was traveling at 41,000 feet on a long-haul flight from Taipei, Taiwan, to Los Angeles on February 19, 1985, when its engines lost power.

As the Boeing 747SP pilots worked to troubleshoot the problem, the plane slowly turned over until it suddenly entered a dive, spiraling down out of the sky as the confused and terrified pilots struggled to regain control. Pieces began to tear off the jet as it tumbled toward the sea.

And then, just when it seemed all hope was lost, Captain Min-Yuan Ho regained his bearings and leveled the plane — after falling more than 30,000 feet in two and a half minutes, they pulled out just in time.

The captain overcame the odds by directing the plane to San Francisco, which isn’t too far from its original destination of Los Angeles. Alas, After reviewing the evidence, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board came to an embarrassing conclusion: the pilots who ended the terrifying plunge had themselves caused the emergency.

Aloha Airlines (AQ) Flight 243

Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was a scheduled flight between Hilo and Honolulu, Hawaii, operated by Aloha Airlines. The aircraft’s Boeing 737-297 suffered substantial damage during an explosive decompression in flight on April 28, 1988, but it was able to land safely at Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui. Thankfully, the passengers were seated and wearing their seatbelts.

The aircraft had reached its normal flight altitude of 24,000 feet (7,300 m) after a routine takeoff and ascent when, at around 13:48, a small section on the left side of the roof ruptured with a “whooshing” sound, about 23 nautical miles (43 km; 26 mi) south-southeast of Kahului on the island of Maui. The captain felt the plane roll to the left and right, and the controls became loose; the first officer spotted grey insulation floating above the cabin.

The captain could see “blue sky where the first-class ceiling used to be” because the cockpit door had fallen away. The subsequent explosive decompression had torn off a huge part of the roof, stretching from just below the cockpit to the fore-wing area, a length of roughly 18.5 feet (5.6 m).

At the time of the incident, First Officer Tompkins was the pilot in command; Captain Schornstheimer took over the controls and initiated an emergency descent 50 mph faster than normal. The crew declared an emergency and made an emergency landing at OGG. The left engine failed on the approach to the airport, and the flight crew wasn’t sure if the nose gear was properly lowered. Nonetheless, 13 minutes after the incident, they were able to land on Runway 2.

Flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing, the only casualty, was ejected from the plane during the incident. A total of 65 passengers and crew members were hurt.

The enormous damage caused by the decompression, the loss of one cabin crew member, and the safe landing of the plane made the occurrence a watershed moment in aviation history, with far-reaching implications for aviation safety policies and procedures.

TACA Airlines (TA) Flight 145

TACA Flight 145, another flight that lost engine power at altitude, had all the makings of an unavoidable disaster. The jet was pounded by severe winds and rainfall while flying over the Gulf of Mexico on May 24, 1988, and Captain Carlos Dardano soon knew his engines wouldn’t start.

There weren’t many possibilities for landing the Boeing 737-300, but New Orleans’ extensive levee system proved to be a welcome alternative to tarmac. Dardano skillfully landed the plane at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility on a vast strip of grass near a levee, ensuring the safety of all 45 passengers.

Following an on-site engine replacement, the Boeing 737-300 took off from Saturn Boulevard, a road that had previously been an aircraft runway at Michoud. The aircraft was subsequently repaired and returned to service.

British Airways (BA) Flight 5390

Captain Tim Lancaster was halfway sucked out of the cockpit on June 10, 1990, after a malfunctioning windscreen panel came off from the cockpit window due to explosive decompression, leaving him dangling out with only his legs caught inside on the flight controls at 17,000 feet.

The windscreen panel in question had been replaced 27 hours prior to the flight. The shop manager did not refer to the maintenance manuals to look up the exact bolts.

Despite the lack of air pressure in the cockpit, LanCaster’s copilot Alastair Atchison piloted the BAC One-Eleven 528FL while flight attendants clung to the ailing pilot.

The crew feared the worst when Lancaster lost consciousness due to diminishing oxygen supplies and was pummeled by strong winds as the crew took the plane down to safety. After the plane’s emergency landing at Southampton Airport, the pilot recovered consciousness and was brought to the hospital. Everyone on board made it out alive.

US Airways (US) Flight 1549

Similar to the TACA Airlines (TA) Flight 145 emergency landing, miraculous was the adjective used in the days following US Flight 1549’s successful landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

What happened to Captain Chesley Sullenberger III and his crew was a stroke of incredible terrible luck, tempered by a few strokes of equally incredible good fortune and a series of wise judgments made by the captain and his crew.

After a bird strike by a flock of Canadian geese shut down the Airbus A320 engines shortly after takeoff, the Captain and his crew safely guided the aircraft to a water landing on the Hudson River in New York City.

The “Miracle on the Hudson,” as it became known, was one of the most heroic accomplishments accomplished by any aviator, marked by quick-witted piloting and the survival of everyone on board the plane.

The video above was captured by Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service. The purpose of a VTS is to provide active monitoring and navigational advice for vessels in confined and busy waterways.

LOT Polish Airlines (LO) Flight 16

After a trip from Newark, New Jersey to Warsaw, Poland on November 1, 2011, a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 767 performed an emergency landing without landing gear.

The main landing gear could not be deployed due to a hydraulic leak. Despite getting a warning 30 minutes into the trip, the LO crew proceeded on, as usual, to burn through the large fuel load. Only on the landing approach, when the landing gear failed to deploy, did it become clear that the plane would land without wheels.

Alternative methods of lowering the landing gear failed, and the plane circled for an hour to burn off the remaining fuel. All 231 persons on board were saved after the crew executed a successful wheels-up landing.

Cpt. Tadeusz Wrona’s emergency landing at the Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW) was heroic, to say the least. Different camera views, including a recording from inside of the plane, can be seen in the above video.

Qantas Airbus A330-300. Photo: Malcolm Nason/Airways

Qantas (QF) Flight 464

Captain Jerem Zwart and first officer Lachlan Smale negotiated an exceptionally perilous landing on October 15, 2014, as a violent thunderstorm battered Sydney Airport with 70 mph winds.

“It’s probably one of the rowdiest landings I’ve ever had,” Storm chaser Tony Harrington told The Sidney Morning Herald six years ago. “I do some crazy stuff in helicopters across Alaska, Greenland, and New Zealand and land in snowstorms, but this one certainly took the cake. It was the most incredible storm ever.”

“[The Airbus A330-300] was going up and down and sideways. I looked around and could see some ladies certainly hyperventilating…We knew we were going to be in for one hell of a ride.”

Despite roaring winds, thunder, and lightning, Zwart was able to successfully land the jet after circling the airport for over an hour. The QF pilot was hailed as a hero for landing the plane in near-perfect condition despite the difficult circumstances, which included flooding on the runways and at the airport itself.

Qantas holds the distinction of being the only airline that Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 movie “Rain Man” would fly because it had “never crashed.” The airline has had no fatalities for more than 70 years and currently ranks top as the safest in the world.

United Airlines (UA) Flight 1175

On February 14, 2018, what should have been a quick trip to paradise turned into a near-disaster. Around noon local time, a Boeing 777-222 airplane, operating as UA1175, experienced an in-flight separation of a fan blade in the No. 2 (right) engine while over the Pacific Ocean en route to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Honolulu, Hawaii.

During level cruise flight shortly before beginning a descent from flight level 360, and about 120 miles from HNL, the flight crew heard a loud bang, followed by a violent shaking of the airplane, followed by warnings of a compressor stall. At the time, passenger Allison Sudiacal told Hawaii News Now, “There was a loud bang…and then the plane really started shaking.”

Captain Christopher Behnam and flight crew shut down the failed engine, declared an emergency, and began a drift-down descent, proceeding directly to HNL where they made a single-engine landing without further incident at 12:37 local time. 

There were no reported injuries to the 374 passengers and crew on board and the airplane damage was classified as minor under National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criteria.

Southwest Airlines (WN) Flight 1380

Though tragedy marred the April 17, 2018 trip, it could have been a lot worse: One passenger was killed when shrapnel from an engine explosion shattered the WN Boeing 737-700’s fuselage.

The Boeing 737-7H4 had experienced a contained engine failure in the left CFM56-7B engine after departing from New York–LaGuardia Airport (LGA) en route to Dallas Love Field (DAL) on that day. The engine cowl was broken in the failure and cowl fragments damaged the fuselage, causing explosive depressurization of the aircraft after damaging a cabin window.

Although the cabin quickly depressurized, WN crew members and passengers made heroic efforts to save the woman, who became the first passenger to die on a commercial flight since 2009. Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot, was hailed as a hero for guiding the plane to Philadelphia with no further passengers injured.

This accident was similar to the one suffered 20 months earlier by WN Flight 3472 flying the same aircraft type with the same engine type. Later on, the engine manufacturer, CFM, would issue a service directive calling for ultrasonic inspections of the turbine fan blades with certain serial numbers, service cycles, or service time.

Other notable mentions include UA 747 and 232, which lost a cargo door near Hawaii, Phillippine Airlines (PR) flight in Okinawa, and Air Transat (TS) 236.

Featured image: Photo by Nguyen Hung on Pexels.com. Article sources: populatmechanics.com, forbes.com, admiralcloudberg.com, smh.com.au, seattletimes.com

Chief Online Editor
Chief Online Editor at Airways Magazine, AVSEC interpreter and visual artist; grammar geek, an avid fan of aviation, motorcycles, sci-fi literature, and film.

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