As with any form of transportation, accidents happen in aviation, sometimes leading to emergencies. Many pilots have made themselves “Heroes of the Sky” because of their high level of conduct during emergencies. Today, we bring you the top 7 greatest emergency landings in aviation history.
Some incredible feats have been achieved in the aviation sector, making flying less tasking for pilots and passengers, from autopilot, which assists the pilot while flying the plane, to eVTOL, which could allow passengers to fly from their houses to the airport. There have even been some times when passengers had to fly or land a plane due to an emergency. However, often overlooked are some remarkable feats pilots achieve in the line of their duty. These incredible feats have saved the lives of hundreds of passengers from imminent catastrophes.
Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known and jaw-dropping emergency landings ordered by date in the last few decades.
Air Canada (AC) Flight 143
Air Canada (AC) flight 143, better known as Gimli Glider, was a Canadian domestic flight scheduled to fly from Montreal to Edmonton. The aircraft ran out of fuel on Saturday, July 23, 1883, forcing both engines to shut down at an altitude of 41,000 feet (12,500 m), midway through the flight. The flight crew successfully glided the Boeing 767 to a decommissioned Canadian Air Force base in Gimli, Manitoba.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) later reported that an on-ground blunder caused the near-disaster in the air. Due to an imperial-metric-unit problem, the ground crew loaded the aircraft with barely half the fuel it needed for the trip (45%).
Thankfully, Captain Robert Pearson, with the help of Maurice Quintal, manoeuvred the aircraft to safety with all 61 passengers, including the 8-member flight crew, unharmed, save for two minor injuries and aircraft nose damage.
China Airlines (CA) Flight 006
Another pilot by the name of Captain Min-Yuan Ho achieved another remarkable landing feat when the engines of China Airlines flight 006. Travelling at an altitude of 41,000 feet above the ground from Taipei, Taiwan, to Los Angeles, USA, on February 19, 1985, the aircraft lost its power.
The flight experienced issues when its 4th engine failed while cruising 41,000 feet above the ground. The pilots tried to troubleshoot the problem, only for the flight to experience a spiralling dive. Pieces of the aircraft began to fall as the confused pilots struggled to regain control.
Just in time, Captain Min-Yuan Ho came to the fore, regained his bearing, and levelled the aircraft after falling 30,000 feet in less than 3 minutes.
The captain was able to navigate the plane to San Francisco without fatalities. 24 of the 274 occupants were injured, and only two were said to have had serious injuries.
Aloha Airlines (AQ) Flight 243
Aloha Airlines flight 243 was scheduled to fly from Hilo to Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 28, 1988. The Boeing 737-297 flight suffered extensive damage following an inflight explosive decompression. The damage was a result of poor maintenance and metal fatigue. Part of the fuselage was said to have broken, meaning when the aircraft had reached its normal flight altitude of 24,000 feet, a portion of its roof ruptured. The aircraft has since been nicknamed the roofless plane by many in the aviation sector.
Thankfully, the plane landed safely at Kahului Airport. The incident is regarded as a significant event in the aviation sector due to its far-reaching effect on aviation safety policies and procedures. Captain Schornstheimer took control of the aircraft from first officer Tompkins and initiated an emergency descent of 50 mph-faster than usual, to land the plane successfully.
A fatality was recorded as flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing was ejected from the plane while 65 people, including passengers and crew members, were injured. There were 94 survivors, of the total 95 occupants.
TACA Airlines (TA) Flight 110
TACA Airlines flight 145 is another flight that lost its engine power, with the pilot coming to the rescue and saving the day. The flight, scheduled to fly from Belize City to New Orleans on May 28, 1998, encountered a severe thunderstorm as it made a final approach to its destination, causing a flameout on both engines of the brand Boeing 737-300. Captain Carlos Dardano attempted a successful emergency landing on the grass levee adjacent to NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. Interestingly, bar 1 injury sustained, all the 45 people on board, including passengers and crew, came out of the incident unscathed.
The incident was featured in an episode of May Day’s TV series titled “Nowhere to Land.”
British Airways (BA) flight 5390
British Airways flight 5390 was scheduled to fly from Birmingham, England, to Malaga, Spain, on June 10, 1990. The BAC One-Eleven 528 FL suffered an explosive decompression while flying over Didcot, Oxfordshire. An improperly installed windscreen pulled from the frame and caused the pilot, Captain Tim Lancaster, to be sucked halfway out of the cockpit. He was left dangling out of the plane with only his leg held onto by the flight crew at 17,000 feet above the ground.
The windscreen in question had been ‘repaired’ just 27 hours before the flight. However, the shop manager did not refer to the maintenance manual to determine the exact screws to use.
Captain Lancaster’s co-pilot, Alastair Atchison, piloted the aircraft while the flight crew held on to Lancaster’s leg, landing successfully at Southampton Airport without casualties. The plane was repaired after the incident and returned to service before being sold in 1993.
The accident featured in season two of the popular TV show MayDay in an episode titled “Blow Out.”
First Officer Alastair Atchison and cabin crew members were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Atchison further enshrined his name among the “Heroes of the Sky” when he was awarded Polaris Award (for Outstanding Airmanship) in 1992.
US Airways (US) Flight 1549
The incident experienced by US Airways 1549 has since been tagged the “Miracle of Hudson” because the flight took an emergency landing at the Hudson River. Captain “Sully” Sullenberger achieved the remarkable emergency landing, making the brave decision to land on the Hudson River and has been described by the National Transportation Safety Board ( NTSB) as the most successful ditching in aviation history.
Captain Sully’s landing can be described as incredible luck tempered by great fortune, a wise decision, and equally incredible courage.
US Airways flight 1549 was a regularly scheduled domestic flight flying from New York City to Charlotte and then to Seattle. The Airbus A320 servicing the route on January 15, 2009, was hit by a flock of birds shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, causing the aircraft to lose all its engine power.
Given the position of all nearby pilots and the considerable low altitude at which the aircraft was cruising. Captain Sully was forced to conduct an emergency landing and glided the plane to the Hudson River. All 155 aboard, including passengers and flight crew, survived the accidents with only a few notable injuries. They were evacuated to safety by nearby boats.
A blockbuster movie titled “Sully” was made in 2016 to describe the incident. It was also featured in MayDay with the title “Hudson River Runway” from season 10, episode 5.
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators conferred upon the crew with the rarely awarded Masters Medal on January 22, 2009. The crew received a standing ovation at the Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009.
LOT Polish Airlines (LO) Flight 16
The flight was scheduled between Newark, United States, to Warsaw, Poland, on November 1, 2011. The flight had 231 onboard, comprising 220 passengers and 11 crew members. Captain Tadeusz Wrona landed the aircraft without landing gear and, in the process, became a “Hero of the Sky.”
The aircraft’s main gear could not be deployed due to a hydraulic leak, and despite getting the warning 30 minutes into the trip, the flight crew continued with the journey. After alternative means of landing also failed, the plane circled the airport to burn out the remaining fuel before it landed successfully without landing gears. Interestingly no fatality was recorded as all the 231 aboard survived without severe injuries.
The Polish president praised the crew for successfully landing the aircraft.
We are often engrossed by technological advancements in the aviation sector and overlook the remarkable achievements of pilots in their line of duties. How pilots found their way through the sky before the invention of GPS and even after is fascinating to us and has perhaps gone under the radar. Remarkable actions that saved the lives of hundreds of passengers have been achieved by pilots who combined technical know-how with a tone of bravery.
This article is dedicated to all pilots who put effort into flying us safely to our destinations. Kudos from all of us at Travel Radar!
Have you experienced an emergency landing during your flight? Let us know your story in the comments below.