For frequent flyers, jumping on a plane becomes as commonplace as taking a seat on a bus and often the professionalism of the pilot and crew come to be regarded with a certain amount of nonchalance. However, on those rare occasions when something goes seriously wrong during a flight, the flight attendant who has just finished handing out peanuts can suddenly become a guardian angel and the pilot who we have imagined kicking back in the cockpit with his mind on his next exotic layover suddenly has hundreds of lives in his hands.
Here follow the terrific tales of 10 heroic & brave pilots who saved many lives and they might just make you perk up a little the next time you hear the safety instructions after you strap yourself in for a flight!
1) Miracle on the Hudson – Capt. Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger
On January 15th 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 between LaGuardia airport in New York and Charlotte/Douglas Airport in North Carolina had only been in the air for six minutes when it was struck by a flock of Canada geese during its climb-out phase. The bird strike hit the Airbus A320-214 close to the George Washington Bridge and disabled both engines immediately, but Captain Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot, glider pilot and safety expert, harnessed all of his experience and courage to glide the aircraft over the Hudson and ditch it safely near the USS Intrepid museum just three minutes after the loss of power. All 155 occupants survived and were safely evacuated and Captain Sullenberger later received the Master’s Medal of The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators for his outstanding actions.
2) Fearsome Engine Failure – Capt. Alfred Haynes
On July 19th 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 was on its way from Denver, Colorado to Philadelphia via Chicago when it suffered a complete failure of its rear-mounted engine with the result that shrapnel from the engine punctured the hydraulic lines of all of the hydraulic systems on the DC-10 aircraft; meaning that the operation of nearly all of the flight controls became impossible for the crew. Despite this, Pilot Alfred Haynes and his crew used each engine independently and then together in order to correct the altitude and steer the plane towards a crash landing at Sioux City, Iowa. The speed and height of descent caused the aircraft to crack apart, catch fire and roll over, but although 111 occupants sadly perished, two thirds of those on board survived. Dennis E Fitch, a DC-10 instructor on board the aircraft, offered Haynes his assistance during the emergency landing. The cockpit voice recorder caught Haynes saying to Fitch “ I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a beer when this is all done” to which Fitch replied “Well I don’t drink but I’ll sure as hell have one”.
3) The Windsor Incident – Capt. Bryce McCormick
On 12th June 1972, American Airlines Flight 96 was on its way from LA to New York when a major decompression explosion was caused by the failure of a cargo door. The sudden cargo hold decompression caused a section of the passenger floor to collapse which in turn jammed the rudder control cable and severed the controls to the tail engine, causing it to shut down completely. However, Pilot Bryce McCormick was still able to perform an emergency landing at Detroit with no casualties and amazingly, no major injuries.
4) The Jakarta Incident – Capt. Eric Moody
On 24th June 1982, British Airways Flight 9 was on its way from London Heathrow to Auckland when the 747 Jumbo flew directly into a dense cloud of volcanic ash from an erupting Mount Galunggung, South East of Jakarta in Indonesia. All four engines subsequently failed, and the crew at first thought that they would have to attempt an unprecedented ditching of the 747 in the Indian Ocean. However, Captain Eric Moody was able to glide the aircraft far enough to clear the volcanic ash and eventually land at Jakarta after the engines restarted. During the incident, Captain Moody made the following famous announcement to passengers: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damndest to get them going again. I trust that you are not in too much distress”. All of the passengers and crew survived, with no injuries whatsoever.
5) The Gimli Glider – Capt. Bob Pearson
On 23rd July 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 was en route from Montreal to Edmonton via Ottawa when the Boeing 767-200 ran out of fuel at 12 500 metres above sea level half way through the flight. Initially, Captain Bob Pearson thought that a fuel pump had failed but soon realised that all of the engines had lost power when a cockpit alarm sounded and the entire instrument panel went blank. Despite this, Captain Person, an experienced glider pilot, was able to glide the plane to an emergency landing at Gimli Industrial Park Airport in Manitoba. Due to the Captain and crew’s skill and nerve, all crew and passengers survived with only ten minor injuries.
6) Aloha Airlines Flight 243 – Capt. Robert Schornstheimer
On April 28th 1988, this Boeing 737-297 was on its way from Hilo to Honolulu in Hawaii when it suffered terrible damage due to a huge decompression just over 20 minutes after take-off. The explosion tore the skin from the roof of the plane from just past the cockpit to the fore wing. However, Captain Robert Schornstheimer was able to perform an emergency landing at Kahului Airport and there was only one fatality; flight attendant C.B.Lansing, who was thrown from the aircraft during the explosion. Flight attendant Michelle Honda was also thrown to the floor and seriously injured but continued to crawl up the aisle reassuring passengers. As well as the sad death of C.B. Lansing, there were 65 injuries, but given the extent of the damage to the aircraft, the survival rate was incredible.
7) United Airlines Flight 811 – Capt. David Cronin
This Boeing 747-122 on its way from San Francisco to Sydney had just left its second stopover at Honolulu Hawaii, when it suffered a cargo door failure. This caused a decompression which blew out several rows of seats and killed 9 passengers. Captain David Cronin was nevertheless able to perform an emergency landing back at Honolulu and the remaining 328 passengers and 18 crew members were evacuated within 45 seconds.
8) A Hero Named Coward – Capt. John Coward
British Airways Flight 38 from Beijing to London on 17th January 2008 was forced to crash land at Heathrow Airport after ice crystals clogged the fuel oil heat exchanger of every one of the engines of the Boeing 777. Senior First officer John Coward glided the aircraft to safety as it passed over traffic on the A30 road below which included a vehicle which has just dropped off then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. There were no fatalities and 47 injuries, despite the massive damage to the aircraft.
9) Polish Pride – Capt. Tadeusz Wrona
On November 1st 2011, Pilot Tadeusz Wrona was forced to perform an emergency belly landing of the LOT Polish Airlines Flight 16 Boeing 767 which he was piloting, at Chopin Airport in Warsaw. All of the 231 passengers and crew survived with no injuries whatsoever. Wrona was awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta; one of his nation’s highest honours, for his brave actions and is rightly regarded as a national hero. Incidentally, he is also a highly skilled glider pilot.
10) Iranian Ace – Capt. Hooshang Shahbazi
On October 18th 2011, Captain Hooshang Shahbazi performed an amazing at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport whilst the plane’s landing gear was completely jammed. All 94 passengers and 19 crew members survived. The 40 year old Boeing 727 was returning from Moscow and was blacklisted from service in Europe but permitted to fly in Russia. Due to US sanctions against Iran, the nation is unable to buy spare parts for its aviation fleet and the US has also forced European fuel companies to stop providing fuel to the Iranians. Iranian authorities have remained taciturn over the entire event and have thus far not had the courtesy to thank Captain Shahbazi for his actions.