Although planes invoke a lot of fear in some people, flying is actually one of the safest ways to travel. In fact, it’s predicted that the chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 5 million – and, to put that in perspective, the chance of dying by simply walking down the street is 1 in 500. Pilots train for years and are experts at getting planes – and passengers – safely from A to B without a hitch.
Even so, there are, unfortunately, some occasions where things don’t go totally to plan. This can happen for several reasons, including unexpected technical difficulties and the weather dramatically taking a turn for the worse. Most of these times, the passengers – and even sometimes the air stewards – are blissfully unaware of the panic that may be ensuing in the cockpit. Still, we’ve got five of the scariest flying moments ever, told by the pilots themselves.
For one pilot, during a flight on a small aircraft with just three passengers, a moment of pure fear came when he experienced engine failure, which he claims: “was partly self-inflicted and a valuable learning experience.” While trying to optimize fuel economy due to the right fuel tank showing as empty, the engine stopped, the aircraft went silent, and it started to glide.
Luckily, this pilot knew what to do in this situation. “I applied the emergency checklist from memory, and the engine roared back to life at full mixture,” he said. “I told my passengers I had to shift gear, while they remained completely oblivious about what just happened. Back on the ground, we found that one of the two magnetos providing electricity to the spark plugs had failed.”
This pilot just had 15 flying hours under his belt and was learning to use the on-board radio for the first time when this nerve-racking experience happened, which could have killed two plane-loads of people! He was landing in an airport without a tower, which requires all pilots in the area to communicate constantly with each other.
As he was approaching to land, one of the voices he could hear stated that another plane was about to land, which confused the pilot as he couldn’t see it anywhere. Then, another voice spoke over the radio, saying: “Guys, did you see each other?” According to the pilot, “The instructor starts looking furiously left and right and tries to look above and under the plane (there is very little up-and-down visibility when the wings are above you). Suddenly, he pushes the throttle on full and banks away. The other plane was now 20 feet right below me. I was about to land right on top of him.”
A pilot of an Airbus 320 took to Reddit to tell his harrowing tale, in which he had a total loss of electrical power while flying to a high-elevation airport in Asia. “All screens went dark, including standby instruments and emergency lighting,” he said. “It is designed to never be without electrical power, even if both the engines failed, you ran completely out of fuel, and the auxiliary power unit is inoperative. It’s a scenario that pilots don’t even train for because it’s never supposed to happen.”
“The car analogy would be you driving at 100 km/hr on a highway, and suddenly all your windows are covered up, you lose your speedometer and all electrical systems, and there’s no response from the brake or accelerator. But you can still feel the car going,” he continued. Luckily, the screens partially recovered, and the pilot landed the plane safely – and the passengers didn’t notice anything apart from the lights temporarily going out in the cabin.
Although this next story comes from someone that didn’t complete their pilot license, that’s probably unsurprising, considering what happened in his training. During his second solo flight, he was required to do some basic maneuvers, such as a figure of eight. “I was doing a left turn about a point when my cabin door opened. Thankfully I was strapped in,” he says.
“With all of the air rushing past, it was hard to push the door out far enough to get it to slam back shut, so I had to slow the aircraft down to near stall speed before I could achieve reclosing it,” he continues. “Once it closed, the plane stalled and began to basically fall out of the sky. I managed to recover from the stall and regain lift … flew back to the airport and landed without further incident.”
One pilot had an entirely different experience than the rest featured in this article, as his terrifying experience was as a result of bad weather during a flight from Boston to Columbus, Ohio. Apparently, there was a huge line of thunderstorms, which means pilots can effectively draw their own flight path to avoid the intense weather patches as best as possible.
The pilot explains: “The flight was three hours long, and the captain and I were spending every second of that time flying up, down, left, and right, dodging lightning and turbulence. Sweat was pouring down my face as I was using my best judgment on which direction to fly. We must have done a good job because the flight attendant called up to the flight deck to say all the passengers were sound asleep!”