by Kung Fu Zu 9/30/17
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.