Power Outage

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu9/30/17
In today’s news is a story of an Air France airliner on route from Paris to L.A., which lost an engine and had to make an emergency landing in Canada.  The link is to an article which shows the damaged engine during flight and after landing.

There is no doubt that such an experience is frightening to those on board, but such things happen more often than is commonly known and modern airliners are uncommonly well designed to continue flying with the loss of an engine.  I will give a few examples as proof.

In the early 1980’s, I was on a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Singapore. The plane was a Boeing 747, the Queen of the Skies, at the time. We must have been over two hours into the flight when I got up and walked around to stretch my legs. I was talking to a stewardess near the galley area when there was the slightest thud and the plane dipped slightly.  Nobody seems to notice this, but I looked at the stewardess and commented that something wrong had happened.  Within a minute or so, the pilot announced that we had lost an engine. He assured us that there was no danger and that we could continue flying to our destination.  However, out of an abundance of safety we would be returning to Frankfurt for repairs. In the end, we had to fly to London as, apparently, Pan Am in Frankfurt did not have a spare engine to replace our damaged one.  We later made it to Singapore in one piece.

On another occasion, my wife and I were booked on an early morning United flight from Singapore to Hongkong.  When we got to the airport, we were told that the flight would be delayed until the next day.  When I enquired as to the reason for the delay, I was told that they had to change an engine and a new one had to be flown in for this operation.  This happened in 1991 while Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, erupted over a period of days. Incredibly, much of the ash from the eruption was blown to the southwest of the Philippines directly into the Hongkong to Singapore flight path, which was hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, the United Airlines plane made it to Singapore with at least one engine no longer functioning.  The plane involved was also a Boeing 747.

Perhaps the most famous incident of a plane losing engine power, yet making its final destination, is that of British Airways flight no. 9.  In June of 1982, flight no. 9 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Jakarta, Indonesia when all four engines stopped. Ash from an erupting volcano, Mount Galunggung, had clogged all engines.

It was then that the captain of the plane made the following, now famous, announcement.

“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 you are not in too much distress.” 

Only a Brit could make such an announcement.

In the event, the flight crew took the plane down, got three of the four engines restarted and landed safely.  I saw the plane in question sitting at Halim Airport in Jakarta a few days later and was amazed that the crew could land the thing.  The windshield looked as if it had been melted.  It reminded me of how water ripples when flowing down glass, but this water was full of dark grit. Again, the plane was a Boeing 747.

That flight crew earned a life’s-supply of champagne for their work.

I could mention other such cases, but suffice it to say that it would be hard to improve on the safety record of modern flight. Fly all you wish and feel safe.


Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He knows the skies are not friendly, whatever they may say. • (199 views)

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12 Responses to Power Outage

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Boeing had a reputation for sturdy planes at least as far back as the B-17 Flying Fortress (cf. Martin Caidin’s Flying Forts). Obviously the 747 lived up to that reputation.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I always take a spare engine with me when I fly.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    Ernest Gann wrote an excellent book on flying called Fate is the Hunter. Some of the stories that really happened are much the same. We don’t pay pilots to drive the bus, but to have an answer when the shit happens. They don’t get enough credit, or enough money, for the job they do.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I believe it was Cathay Pacific’s no. 1 pilot who gave me the description of an airline pilot’s job. “Hours of boredom interspersed with minutes of shear terror.”

      Like you say, they are paid mostly, for those minutes. In those days, they were well paid. Lots of the Cathay Pilots lived very nicely out in Sai Kung. As far as I was concerned, they earned everything they were paid simply by being able to land at Kai Tak airport. Of all the airports I ever saw, that was the scariest place to land. Anyone who visited Hongkong before the “new” international airport was opened will know what I am talking about.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That description has been applied to other occupations, such as being a soldier.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          In the famous historical TV series, “World at War”, I recall an ex-soldier mentioning something like that and remarking that the only writer who captured this in print was Tolstoy in his novel, “War and Peace.”

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Of course, sometimes it’s more than just a few minutes, as when British ships off Crete faced persistent attacks from German dive-bombers. This is what most easily leads to shell shock under whatever name it’s called.

            I imagine there was also a lot of that at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania, a close-order fight lasting 24 hours. On our visit to the battlefield, I commented to the historian there that the soldiers involved probably considered it the closest equivalent to hell on Earth, and she agreed.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I am presently reading Ernst Juenger’s “In Stahlgewittern: Aus dem Tagebuch eines Stosstruppfuehrers”. English title “Storm of Steel.”

              Juenger gives a pretty good idea of the misery and horror soldiers had to endure in the trenches during WWI.

              That being said, he was very proud of his comrades who stood and fought under such horrible conditions. Throughout the book he makes comments such as, “these were men one could fight with.”

          • Steve Lancaster says:

            Not the only one. I suggest Norman Mailer’s Naked and the Dead.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        I recall landing there in 71 and looking in on people eating dinner in their apartment.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I always felt like I could shake hands with people on rooftops, especially after a steep left turn shortly before landing.

          I once heard that the HK government had a secret study done which estimated that something like up to 30,000 people would be killed if a plane crashed while trying to land. Considering the planes flew over very tightly packed apartments, I can believe the estimate.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    There are all kinds of lists and photo collections of this kind. I like this one because it has some nice videos: 10 of the Most Dangerous Airports in the World. Here’s another good video.

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