Today (December 4, 2017): Top 10 (almost) plane crashes that provide proof that flying is absolutely safe.
Although I realize very well that statistically flying is the safest mode of transport, the thought of being in an airplane makes me anxious and break out in cold sweat. And apparently, I am not alone since multiple surveys have shown that about 60% of all passengers admit they are somewhat stressed by commercial airplane travel, including 10% who claims to be very afraid. Some famous people have openly discussed their fear of flying in interviews and on social media; they include Miley Cirus, Ben Affleck, Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Whoopi Goldberg, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Anniston, and Dutch ex-footballer Dennis Bergkamp to name a few. My fear of flying stems from an experience as a student flying on a Continental Airlines Boeing 767-400ER that was struck by severe turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean. But it also boils down to my lack of understanding and technology to keep planes in the air and to my feeling of being helplessly exposed to a machine and 2 (sometimes 3) hopefully skilled pilots. However, reading the Aviation Herald – a website which reports on daily incidents and accidents in civil aviation – helped me to understand that the aviation industry is indeed one of the safest out there, with multiple layers of protection preventing the aircraft from dropping from the air when something goes wrong. As is evident from the following 10 (near) crashes, planes are very robust machines – even in the worst case scenarios and most terribly frightening situations – and these amazing stories have somewhat helped to ease my nerves.
Do you suffer from a fear of flying? Leave a comment or take my poll below.
10. A POLISH AIRLINES LOT B767 LANDS WITHOUT LANDING GEAR
On 1 November 2011, a Boeing 767-300ER operated by Polish Airline LOT on a flight from Newark (USA) to Warsaw (Poland) suffered a hydraulic leak within 30 minutes after takeoff, which resulted in the loss of all the hydraulic fluid that powered the wing flaps and the primary landing gear system. When the backup system was activated, only the flaps were operable. The decision was made to continue to Warsaw across the Atlantic Ocean to burn off fuel, something LOT was later criticized for. While approaching Warsaw, all attempts to lower the landing gear failed, forcing the pilots to make a belly landing, the first (and so far only) jetliner to do so in modern time. All 231 passengers aboard survived without any significant injuries. The aircraft however sustained substantial damage, and was written off. The spectacular belly landing was captured on camera and demonstrates that large widebody aircraft are capable of landing intactly in the unlikely case that this scenario may repeat itself.
9. AN ALOHA AIRLINES B737 LOSES ITS ROOF MID-FLIGHT
On 28 April 1988, flight 243 from now defunct Aloha Airlines suffered an explosive decompression while en route from Hilo to Honolulu in the Hawaiian archipelago. The Boeing 737-200 abruptly lost the upper half of its front fuselage, extending from just behind the cockpit to the fore-wing area, a length of about 18.5 feet (5.6 m). Sadly, one flight attendant was ejected from the airplane during the event. Thirteen minutes later, the crew was able to perform a successful emergency landing at Kahului Airport on Maui Island. The missing flight attendant nor the piece of the fuselage that was blown off the aircraft were ever found, but the investigators were still able to determine that the fuselage failed because of corrosion damage and improperly-repaired fatigue cracks. The safe landing of the Boeing 737 – despite the extensive damage inflicted by the decompression – was and still is regarded as a miracle in the history of aviation. However, the fact that the damage was limited to the roof above the First Class cabin and that the plane did not disintegrate midair was no coincidence as the skin of a plane’s fuselage is built in such way that it prevents cracks and failures to spread outside designated areas.
8. AN AIR FRANCE A340 CRASHES DURING LANDING IN A FIERCE THUNDERSTORM
On 2 August 2005, an Air France Airbus A340 – operating flight 358 from Paris to Toronto – approached the Toronto airport in terrible weather conditions – severe winds, heavy rain, and thunderstorms – after an otherwise uneventful flight. The plane touched down farther along the wet runway than usual and the crew deployed the thrust reversers too slowly, resulting in the plane overrunning the runway, breaking through the airport’s perimeter fence, before plunging into a ravine and bursting into flames. Miraculously, all 309 passengers and crew survived. The accident -which is sometimes referred to as the Toronto Miracle because nobody died in the inferno – highlights the role played by highly trained flight attendants during an emergency. It also demonstrates the strength of modern airframes that can withstand and remain intact under large forces (such as a crash landing), hence increasing the chances for survival for those inside.
7. A BRITISH AIRWAYS B747 FLIES THROUGH A VULCANIC ASH CLOUD
On 24 June 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbojet – performing a night flight from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Perth (Australia) – suffered a flame out of all its four engines over a time span of just a few minutes. In addition, smoke began to accumulate in the cabin of the aircraft and passengers noted an unusual fluorescent blue light around the wings. The aircraft went into a glide mode and the crew prepared for a ditching in the Indian Ocean near Java as it was too far away from the nearest suitable airport. However, as the plane descended, the pilots were able to successfully restart the engines (although one failed again soon after) and divert to Jakarta Airport for a safe landing. Although the reason for the failure was not immediately apparent to the crew or air traffic control, it was later determined that the engine flame outs were caused by volcanic ash spewed by Indonesia’s Galunggung mountain during a major eruption. Since this incident, aircraft avoid any airspace that may have volcanic ash in it, since the ash damages the engines and can coat an airplane so much that it becomes tail-heavy. This was a great problem in 2010, when an ash plume from Iceland’s yjafjallajökull volcano grounded 100,000 transatlantic flights, affecting millions of travelers.
6. AN EMIRATES A380 AND AIR SEYCHELLES A330 AVOID A MID-AIR COLLISION
On 14 July 2017, an Emirates Airbus A380 plane and an Air Seychelles Airbus A330 plane narrowly avoided a mid-air collision above the Indian Ocean near the island of Mauritius. The Emirates A380 – operating a flight from Dubai to Mauritius – had been cleared to descend to 38,000 feet by Mauritius Air Traffic Control on its approach to the Indian Ocean island, around the same time the Air Seychelles A330 – which was flying in the opposite direction from Mauritius towards its home base in the Seychelles – was advised to climb to 37,000 feet. However, the Emirates crew descended the world’s largest passenger plane lower to 36,000 feet, heading directly towards the path of the Air Seychelles flight. The ‘Traffic alert and Collision Avoiding System’ (TCAS) on both airplanes alerted their crews that they were seconds away from a collision and consequently, the Air Seychelles pilot made a sharp right to narrowly avoid the A380, although large passenger aircraft are required to be at least three miles apart horizontally or 1,000 feet vertically. Mid-air collision are indeed very rare thanks to TCAS, which helps pilots to identify the location and tracks the progress of another aircraft equipped with beacon transponders, hereby assisting pilots to avoid colliding with other airplanes in the air.
5. A SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES MD81 CRASHES ON TAKEOFF IN WINTER WEATHER
On 27 December 1991, a Scandinavian Airlines McDouglas MD-81 took off from Stockholm (Sweden) for flight 751 to Copenhagen (Denmark). However, moments after liftoff, both engines failed at an altitude of only 3,220 ft (980 m) and the pilots were forced to make an emergency landing 4 minutes after takeoff in a field near Gottröra in Sweden. Remarkably, although the plane broke into three parts before coming to a stop, all 129 passengers and crew aboard survived. Investigation revealed that clear ice from the tops of the wings was ingested into the engines as the aircraft became airborne on takeoff, causing the rare dual engine flame out. The flight crew, and especially Captain Rasmussen, were lauded for the skilled emergency landing in a fast-developing, potentially fatal situation. The accident highlighted the extreme importance of properly deicing planes in icy, snowy conditions as build up of ice or snow on the surface of one of the plane’s critical areas (e.g. wings and stabilizers) not only adds extra weight, but most importantly, it also disrupts the flow of air, hereby reducing lift.
4. A UNITED AIRLINES B777 FLIES 3 HOURS ON ONE ENGINE OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN
On 17 March 2003, the captain of a United Airlines flight 842 – operated by a B777-200ER and flying from Auckland (New Zealand) to Los Angeles (USA) – was forced to shut down one of the plane’s two engines because the oil pressure dropped dramatically. The captain continued to fly its 255 passengers for more than 3 hours on the Boeing’s sole functioning engine over the vast Pacific Ocean, before making a textbook landing in Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. The 192 minute diversion on one engine is the longest ever single-engine diversion under extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS) rules, which define the maximum time a plane can fly away from the nearest suitable airport. In fact, the United Airlines’s Boeing was only certified for 180 minutes, but the Triple Seven encountered severe headwinds, extending the flight by another 12 minutes. The incident shows that planes are capable to fly very long distances on one engine, a scenerio for which aircraft and airlines are certified although it may test the nerves of the passengers.
3. AN AIR TRANSAT A330 LOSES ALL POWER OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
On 24 August 2001, an Airbus A330 of the Canadian company Air Transat Flight 236 ran out of fuel while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The fuel starvation was caused by a fuel line fracture in the right engine (due to improper maintenance work) and a wrong decision of the pilots to transfer fuel from the left wing tank to the near-empty right wing tank. However, the pilots of the aircraft became heroes as they glided their plane without engine power over a distance of 120 km (75 miles) to a runway at a naval base on an island in the Azores, saving all 306 people (293 passengers and 13 crew) on board. It’s the longest glider flight of a passenger jet in modern history and a statement to the robustness of the Airbus A330 plane. As a result of the incident, Airbus modified its on-board computers to continuously check all fuel levels against the flight plan to detect early anomalies.
2. A US AIRWAYS A320 LANDS ON THE HUDSON RIVER SHORTLY AFTER TAKEOFF
On 15 January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was scheduled to fly from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas. However, about 90 seconds after takeoff, the Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada Geese and lost the power in both engines. Unable return to LaGaurdia or to reach any airport nearby, the crew glided the plane to a successful ditching in the Hudson River. All on board survived, and the incident became known as the Miracle of the Hudson. The plane’s humble captain – Chesley Sullenberger – was instantly projected into stardom, although the event’s happy ending was the consequence, not only of good decision-making and teamwork by the cockpit crew, but also by the A320’s fly-by-wire technology, by which the pilot uses a side-stick to make control inputs to the flight control computers and which automatically adjusted the glidepath in the case of flight 1549.
1. A QANTAS A380 NEARLY CRASHES AFTER AN UNCONTAINED ENGINE FAILURE
On 4 November 2010, a Qantas Airbus A380, operating flight 32 from Singapore to Sydney, suffered an uncontained engine failure in its number two Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine shortly after takeoff, resulting in extensive damage to its left wing, fuel system, and flight controls. The experienced crew made it back to Singapore about two hours after the incident occurred, with no injuries among the 469 passengers and crew members. Investigators found that a manufacturing fault in the engine caused a fatigue crack. The captain of the A380 aircraft, Richard Champion de Crespigny, has been credited in the media and by investigators for one of the finest examples of airmanship in the history of aviation by guiding the seriously crippled double-decker jet back to Singapore Changi Airport and averting what could have been a catastrophe. The incident was a huge blamage for Rolls-Royce, but at the same time a statement to the great safety of the A380 aircraft which kept flying despite multiple, extremily severe technical failures (although Rolls-Royce powered A380s were temporarily grounded at the time).