If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, there’s a fair chance your stomach has lurched at turbulence, take-off, or landing due to a subconscious fear of a crash. This is a reasonable terror: if there’s one place you never want to find yourself, it’s on a plane that is going down.
Unfortunately, more people have found themselves in this frightening situation than you might think. From plummeting into the forest to landing in a busy lake, plane wrecks are horrifying experiences that often put passengers inches away from death. Luckily, many have survived to tell their tales of woe and share how they felt moments before the impact.
Here are some of the most terrifying experiences from travelers who have survived emergencies in the air.
45. Keep Your Wits About You
General aviation pilot here.
I have a friend who flies a Mitsubishi MU-2, which is a rather unique aircraft regarding its control surfaces, which can make it a challenge to fly. We once experienced a loss of electrical power on takeoff, and it was pretty nerve-wracking getting the plane turned around. Luckily it was just the two of us. If even one little thing had gone differently, we may not have had such a good ending.
I always cite this as an example to be prepared for anything and to keep good stick and rudder skills.
44. A Direct Descent Disaster
I was in a commercial jet that fell from cruising altitude. It was a small jet flying for a now-defunct airline. We had just started the descent when the plane tilted and then dropped out of the sky. The nose was pointed nearly straight down. I was sitting in the aisle. People were screaming, yelling out — but I can’t remember the words. All kinds of stuff was flying through the cabin and the flight attendant was nowhere to be seen. My brother and dad were in the seats behind me. I remember thinking about how sad my mom was going to be when we were all gone. And then looking out the window as the ground got closer and closer.
After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot was able to regain control and the plane started to right itself again… for about 15-30 seconds, before starting another uncontrolled descent. It was more terrifying the second time around — the ground was far closer. I was certain that I was going to die and looked over at a blonde woman about my age sitting next to me. We hadn’t spoken the entire flight, but I reached out in some impulsive desire for human contact at the end… and we held hands as the plane fell out of the sky. I can remember looking at her face briefly, she was crying.
As the ground started approaching and you could make out things like trees and houses, I felt a sense of peace fall about me. The end seemed to be certain but I didn’t care. It seemed like it was going to be quick and painless — but I remember being surprised that it was going to all end this way.
Then we started to feel the pilot struggling with the plane and it started to right itself again… and for a second time, the plane pulled out of the dive. It was still incredibly bumpy and people were crying and screaming out at every round of turbulence — everyone was waiting for the next and final dive. When we landed, the young woman and I were still holding hands. People were dead quiet.
What was surreal was that the flight attendant got on the microphone when we reached the gate and thanked us for flying on that terrible airline and ‘hoped we would fly again.’ They brought a bus out and one of the pilots came out with us. He didn’t say a word, but his knee was shaking uncontrollably.
43. A Plane Without Wings
My grandfather is a survivor and I will give his account as best as possible.
T’was his 70th summer. He was doing a test flight on his ultralight (smallest class of airplane) after a very basic repair. From best I can remember after six years, the cable controlling one of the flaps of the wings snapped (if that is not at all how airplanes work, forgive me. I’m no expert) and he began losing altitude.
Now my grandfather was an exceptionally skilled pilot by any metric. He had been flying since he was 20. However, he was now in a spin above a forest, and if there’s anything you don’t want to have a long fall over, its a bunch of pointy sticks. He kept it as level as he could, and said his final prayers.
The rest is purely his account of what happened. He was the only person present. He woke up, and realized he was looking at his plane. Sort of. He has terrible vision and his glasses were destroyed in the impact.
But if he had his glasses, he would have seen this. The tree in this picture is located where the pilot sits.
He tried to stand, but he was still strapped into his seat. After unstrapping and standing, he felt a ton of chest pain which we would later find out was several broken ribs and a punctured lung. Remarkably undamaged for the type of wreck he just went through, he took a few moments to gather his wits and realized the buzz he was hearing was a chopper flying away.
The chopper was a search helicopter, and it did not return. After realizing that something must have happened to his emergency GPS on the tail of the plane, he just began to walk. It was dark as heck (if you’ve never experienced true darkness, give it a shot) and he had no clue where he was or where he was headed.
So here’s my grandfather, at 70, with several broken ribs, in complete darkness, with no glasses, walking through the Ozark Mountains alone. Quite a harrowing situation. At around 5am, he finally stumbles upon a pasture. Which is good and bad news. It’s good news, cause hey, people! It’s bad news because in this part of the Ozarks, dogs are for guarding pastures. And he hears barking.
He followed the outside fence and eventually came upon a farmhouse, unharmed by any animals, though certainly not unharmed. They called an ambulance immediately as well as his family.
The man is my hero, and I am honored to be named after him.
42. Kindly Pilot?
41. The Runway Is Hard
I’ve been in two of them, both very minor.
The first one was in a small Cessna. I had just soloed in a 172 the week before and the pilot let me sit up front. We taxied out to the runway, where there was a 90-degree crosswind. I suggested to the pilot that we use the other runway where there was less of a crosswind, but he said it was fine.
We go to take off, and he has trouble keeping it straight. He adds a little too much rudder and the plane spins out and rolls. The right wing hit the ground, denting it a bit and brought everything to a stop.
The second one was on an CRJ7. We had just landed and were taxiing to the gate. The pilot missed a turn and tried to still make it, causing some of the wheels to leave the pavement and get stuck in the grass. We had to wait a half-hour to get pulled out, but the plane was okay.
So yeah. Not all plane crashes are deadly. Or even nerve-wracking.
40. Serious Turbulence
I was on a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank 23 years ago that had two 45-second bouts of severe clear-air turbulence. The first time we dropped nearly two thousand feet and people not belted into their seats were thrown against the ceiling.
This was back when Southwest aircraft had a few rows of seats that faced backward in a three-facing-three configuration. I was facing backward so I got a clear view of passengers’ faces.
I was traveling alone and I think I would have freaked out much more if I had had a loved one on the flight. As it was, watching other people scream was actually somewhat calming. Seeing the futility of terror I just closed my eyes and tried to calm myself, breathing deeply, and in so doing try and calm the aircraft with my mind.
Yes, silly and the sort of thing a teenager would do, but no more futile than screaming in terror.
After things calmed down people had different ways of dealing. Some laughed in relief, some got mad at stewardesses for spilled drinks in their laps. Some cried and some just stared wild-eyed.
Then about a minute later it happened all over again.
In the end, they told us not to worry and that turbulence was completely normal, but the conversation that the attendants had with the ground crew after landing at Burbank said this was anything but normal, and the ground crew had to help one stewardess down the jetway stairs as she’d sprained or broken her foot when she hit the ceiling.
All that said, unless the turbulence damages the stabilizer, tail, or wing the only real likelihood of injury from clear air turbulence is from people who aren’t belted in or drink carts bouncing around the cabin.
39. Gliders Gonna Glide
A few years ago, I was learning to fly glider planes.
To summarize, a glider is a motorless plane that gets towed into the air with a winch. While you’re being towed, the plane is pointing 45 degrees up and you disconnect the cable when you’re over the winch.
Once you disconnect you pitch the nose of the plane forward so the plane is level instead of pointing up. Pointing the nose up loses speed, and once your speed falls below a certain level, the plane stalls and falls instead of glides.
Anyway, I was going up with my instructor in the seat behind me. Business as usual. I disconnect the cable and instead of a clean disconnect, there’s a bang so loud that I thought I must have ripped a hole in the glider. I’m frantically looking around and in doing so I forget to aim the nose of the plane downwards.
So the plane is still nose-up, losing speed fast while I’m distracted. Until it slows down below speed and the plane stalls. Now it’s just falling, falling almost backward since we’re pointing up. We’re weightless, in free fall, the plane starts to tumble, blue sky, green earth, blue sky, green earth. It’s picking up speed fast as we’re falling. Alarms start bleeping, dials and meters start spinning circles, the wings start groaning.
And here’s where I really mess up. I remember, “If you’re going too fast, pull the stick back to bring the nose up and slow down.” Which is true, except in this case I’m not flying too fast, I’m falling too fast. I pull the stick back, bring the nose up and lose speed again… bringing me into another stall and sending the plane tumbling again.
This repeats twice until I hear my instructor behind me in a completely deadpan voice go, “Ground’s getting close. Got a plan?” At this point, I just feel like a scared animal. My mind is blank, the only thing that I could think of just made it worse and I reply, equally deadpan, “I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing at the moment.”
The instructor nods, takes the stick, just pushes it straight forward. The plane makes a nauseating dive bringing the nose around, we pick up speed again. And speed is the key here really; the glider just needs a minimum speed so it can glide instead of fall. As soon as my instructor has the plane right side up and going fast enough, the whole thing just levels out and we’re gliding as smooth as silk.
That day, I learned that the urge to stagger out of a plane, fall to your knees, and hug the ground is not a movie trope. You will do that under the right circumstances.
38. No One Told Her She Was Going To Die
This happened to two close friends (married) who were flying in a single prop from Zambia to Botswana. Ade, my good chum, was being flown by his boss in the oil business to take a break on his ranch. In the plane — his wife (Amanda) and the boss’ son as co-pilot. Amanda hated flying in single-props so she took a sleeping tablet and was out for the count with her head on Ade’s lap.
Over Botswana, the engine cuts out and the pilot cannot get it restarted. Despite having plenty of experience, he starts to lose control. He announces that they are going to crash land and it is obvious to all in the plane (except for the sleeping beauty in the back) that there is no way they can do it safely — it’s all rocks and trees. They realized then that they were all going to die or be horribly injured.
This is the odd bit. Ade told me that he felt very very strange — almost happy. He said that he felt sad to be going, but felt no anger or fear — just a peaceful realization of his own end. In fact, he said it reminded him of being sedated.
He calmly wondered whether he should wake his wife but felt there was no point in rousing her to tell her she was going to die, so he told her he loved her and stroked her hair all the way down.
They hit the ground. Hard — bounced — hit again and then smashed into a tree.
The pilot died on the spot. His co-pilot was very badly injured. Ade and Amanda walked away virtually unhurt. They both had lots of bruising but no broken bones except…
Ade’s decision to leave his wife on his lap cost him dearly. When they hit the ground her head bounced up and smashed him under the chin causing him a split lip and tongue plus several thousand dollars worth of dentistry.
The plane was then raided by the locals who stole everything, including all their paperwork and passports, making it hard to prove who they were in a foreign country. They got medivac’d out of there and only required some sedation before being picked up by a friend and taken to another ranch to chill out for a week.
As they pulled up at the ranch gate, they noticed that it was adorned with three props — all bent and broken with the blades bent back. The owner just handed them a drink, smiled and told them that it happens a lot!
37. From Terror To Elation
36. A Good Pilot Is Worth Any Price
I was on a Qantas A380 when the engine blew up. QF32 was the flight, it was a really big story back when it happened. We were flying from Singapore to Australia, early November 2010.
Everything seemed normal but then we heard a loud “BOOM!” Then another one after that. Everyone kind of shouted out, or like cried out momentarily in shock, but everyone was mostly calm. We didn’t really know what was going on. Someone actually filmed the left wing, and through whispers, I heard them saying it had a hole in it. I couldn’t see it but I was a bit concerned after that.
We were still flying okay so I thought, “Hey, it can’t be too bad, we might make it.”
I heard someone else say they could see smoke coming out of the engine after the banging. I could see it from the camera which sits up on the tail section, which you can see on your TV screen. One of the captains came on and told us that there was a problem with ‘engine number two.’ He said they were working on it, and they would get back to us. He sounded like he was trying to be calm, but I knew it was bad because one of the pilots walked back into our cabin and looked out the window. He must have been checking out the wing.
We still flew for another few hours but eventually we landed back in Singapore.
We couldn’t see the damage when we got off, but I saw pictures later. The entire engine cowling was ripped off, and there were multiple holes in the wings. I was so bloody lucky we had a good crew who were experienced enough to get the plane down. That plane had serious damage, and I’m really lucky to be alive. The captains name is Richard de Crespigny, he is a great man. I will fly Qantas again next year from Sydney to LA and back, and I have full confidence in them!
35. Highway Landing
My parents used to own a small prop plane.
About two hours into the flight, at cruising altitude, the plane shuddered and the prop stopped. After a failed attempt to restart, my father put in the mayday call. He looked at my mom and kissed her and told her that the loved her and that the plane was going down.
He took control of it and was told by air traffic that there was a potential strip of highway he could land on if he could make it. So the plane is going down and it’s really loud and my mother is crying. My dad is at the helm and they land moving fast on this strip of highway but the impact causes the landing gear to shear off on impact.
The passenger wing clips a telephone pole. The plane wraps around it and slams nose-first into the ground. Dad’s chair broke off and he shattered his jaw and basically all of his teeth. My mother…she left with a gnarly gash and a bad taste for flying.
Every day, I think about how different my life would be if I had lost them that day and how different it is after the fact even today. My dad doesn’t talk about it often. But he and my mom both agree every day seems a little easier than any day before that.
Afterward, his career blew up and he seemed to handle stress incredibly well. My mother seemed to become much more sensitive and our family just seemed to have gotten stronger. Today I can say that is one of the many experiences they have had together that made them so close.
34. Insanely Lucky Crash Landing
I was pretty young, only about four or five when I was in a plane crash. It was a small one engine prop plane with just me, my dad, and the pilot – who was a family friend. It was caused by engine failure.
I don’t remember much except for my dad’s actions. He was sitting in the front co-pilot seat. He reached back to me in the back seat and pulled my winter coat snug around me. (It was winter in Cleveland Ohio). Then he made sure my seat belt was fastened securely. After making sure I was safe he buckled himself in tightly as well.
It is important to note at this point that my dad is a devout Christian. He recounted his perspective to me when I got older and said that he was certain he was going to die. He said that he was quiet and praying that God would allow his son to live, even if he didn’t. Both my dad and the pilot were knocked unconscious on impact, and both severely injured.
My dad regained consciousness first and heard me crying in the back of the plane. He told me that his first thoughts were a mix of panic and relief. He panicked, thinking the pilot was probably dead and he has to get out of the wreckage, but he had some relief because my crying meant I was alive. In the end, all three of us beat the odds and survived.
33. The Nose Knows
When I was about 8 years old, I was on a trip to Puerto Rico with my family. We started smelling this burnt plastic smell, then smoke slowly came rolling back from the cockpit area. The flight attendant came on the intercom, clearly crying, saying that there was an electrical fire in the front of the plane. The lights then all went out, except for the small safety lights along the walkway.
The flight attendant freaking out and crying caused most people on the plane to start freaking out too. My mom was hysterical in the seat next to me. I remember looking up to her and saying, “Mommy, are we going to die?” She cried even harder.
I had a weird calm about me, probably because I didn’t actually understand the concept of death. My older brothers (12 and 14 at the time) were also not very scared, just excited by the prospect of going down the blow-up slide.
Thankfully, we were able to make an emergency landing in Atlanta. I remember everyone clapping when we landed. Then we had to wait 8 hours in the Atlanta airport for a new flight to Puerto Rico.
32. Breathtaking Blown-Tire Strike
I was on a plane to Tegucigalpa, Honduras from somewhere in Florida in 1997. I was about 11 or 12. The plane had a tire blowout on contact with the runway. I imagine the pilot had a quick decision to make, whether to abort the landing and ascend or to continue. He apparently elected to decelerate the plane and finish landing, with a blown tire.
The landing was absurdly violent. We were seated near the front of the plane. I think it was about 4 seated to a row, not a large plane but not a small one either. Somehow the pilot brought the plane to a stop.
We all exited via stairs brought to the plane on the runway. Guards were brought in just for the purpose of telling us that we could not take pictures. I tried to get a picture of the mangled landing gear with the blown tire and I just had hands up in my face. I remember the snapshot very well though, it was very scary.
As for reaction, everyone on the plane immediately started clapping and screaming as the plane came to a stop. The pilot came on the intercom with a very shaky voice, explaining a tire had blown.
31. Spine-Chilling Shakiness
Eight years ago I took a Boeing 747 and most of the flight was uneventful. When we reached my destination I was looking out the window and everything seemed fine. We started seeing the runway. All of a sudden the plane started shaking uncontrollably and I saw the wing almost hit the ground. At that moment the lights went out and a piece of luggage flew from an overhead compartment that hadn’t been closed correctly. It made a very loud bang and everybody started to panic.
People were screaming like crazy and you could hear every deity being called by name. This lasted less than 10 seconds and we were back in the air normally. A couple of minutes later the pilot told us in a totally calm voice that unexpected weather in our destination had lead to us circling it for another half hour. I convinced myself the pilot’s calmness was proof enough that we had overreacted and was just happy to see my family after the trip.
From the airport to my home most areas were blacked out (It was a large city and long drive. Highly unusual). Trees were pulled out of the ground like it was nothing, cars were damaged, etc. This is common in tornado areas or the like, but I hadn’t seen this in my city in my 20 years up to that day. It turns out the unexpected weather referred to winds that broke every single speed record for my city ever measured. There were news reports on the storm on TV the next day and they explained it was completely unexpected. It just happened out of the blue in a matter of minutes and was gone just as fast.
What they never mentioned is that our plane was trying to land as this unfolded. I convinced myself that it just hadn’t been that close or important. Some weeks later I’m at a party for a friend and one of his uncles mentions something about working for the airline in passing. I asked him about my flight and he was really thrilled and nervous to learn that I had been on that plane. “You’re kidding me, aren’t you?” “That was so close for you guys.” “They’re doing a whole investigation and evaluation of the whole incident” – I was floored.
I never really learned the whole truth about that night, but I believe it was one of the closest calls a jumbo has had in years.
30. Scary, Smoky Plunge To The Sea
I was flying to Iraq and the C5 (military aircraft) caught fire. It was some electrical problem and smoke started to fill the cabin. A C5 is a huge bird, and it’s also weird because you fly facing the back. So the cabin is filling with smoke and we are somewhere over the ocean, the whole time I’m thinking we have tons of weight in machines in the belly and if we hit the water we are sinking immediately.
Some air force guys are walking around the cabin and tell us to reach in to the pocket in front of us to grab the oxygen bags. I was expecting a yellow cup that resembled a muzzle but I pull out a red bag with an elastic band around the neck area. I place it over my head and pull the string then my eyes start burning like heck.
As far as the reaction from us soldiers, we were in the 82nd airborne infantry so we were used to jumping out of airplanes and wanted parachutes. But obviously, they didn’t have that many. We were all pretty calm, this being our second deployment, the first to Afghanistan no more than 2 months prior, we were all pretty much expecting the end at any moment and were joking around. I think a few of the guys were playing keep-away with the airbags.
We ended up making an emergency landing in Spain at an air force base and had to stay for 3 days while they repaired the bird. The entire time we were on lockdown because the Air Force didn’t trust infantry soldiers from the 82nd.
29. Shocking Dive Into A Lake
I’ve been in 3 plane crashes, mostly on the runway. My dad has been in many more. Two in one day, once (granted one of them he was in a helicopter). It’s part of the territory growing up when you’re around bush planes.
The most memorable was in a DeHavilland dhc-3 single otter on floats. It happened on takeoff. The engine was spooling up and we started to work our way on up when a massive gust of wind picked us straight up into the air about 60-100 feet and dropped us. We ended up landing on the left side of the plane. Everyone was a little shook up but the real danger was that the plane was sinking now. Another guy popped the roof escape hatch and started pulling people up on top.
Luckily this happened right around dinner time on a busy lake. Many boats came by to assist and nobody was injured. One guy’s pants got wet and the airline’s owner bought him new ones.
28. A “Horrendous” Landing In The Himalayas
We were flying from Kolkata to Kathmandu in the autumn of 1979. It was an amazing flight, weaving among the mountains of northern India, dodging thunderhead formations and heading into the foothills of the Himalayas. Lightning was striking around us but the flight seemed steady and on course… like I said, weaving through the mountains.
The Kathmandu airport is barely an international airport, nestled between two amazing mountain ranges. The pilot of our Air India craft literally flew the plane onto the runway and then hit the brakes and reverse thrusters. The overhead compartments popped open and anything loose began bouncing down the aisle. All the seats were thrust forward and our bodies were jack-knifed around our seatbelts with our heads against the seats in front of us.
We were moving fast. Then the pilot made his turn, bouncing along. We could see out the window that we were at the end of the runway. Still moving quite fast. It felt as though the landing gear would collapse with the turn. The plane finally slowed and stopped. No one made a sound. There were no cheers; no tears. Just silence and wide-eyed glances.
27. An Ear-Shattering Explosion
When I was 11 years old, we were taking a flight home from Honolulu to Chicago O’Hare. This particular plane was a massive Boeing 777 with two seats on each side aisle and five in the middle aisle, spanning about 30-40 total rows back for a grand total of more or less 250 people. The plane was fully loaded, ready to take off. We start to jet down the runway, probably three seconds from lifting our wheels off the ground when an ear-shattering boom rings throughout the cabin and the lights flicker a bit.
People are now gasping and looking to the left of the plane as the tires screech to a quick halt. Being 11 years old, I had no idea what was really going on. It wasn’t until we had to tow the plane back to a gate that we were told by the purser over the PA what actually happened to the plane.
So to my knowledge, commercial jet engines consist of large, sharp, thin fan blades that spin rapidly to push the plane forward. Well, one of these little blades became loose in the takeoff sequence and got sucked into the engine, hurtling out the back and ripping apart some crucial parts along the way. The entire left engine exploded on our plane. Should this have happened in the air a mere few minutes later, we probably wouldn’t have been able to turn around easily to return to the terminal.
26. Who Doesn’t Love The Smell Of Christmas
I was in a helicopter crash. Everyone was silent during the ordeal other than the pilot who was like “everything is fine, oh no, whoops, noooooo, nope it’s ok, oh no, nooooooo, look for the lake to ditch!!!!”
We were coming down from a mountain cabin flying by sight when a fog rolled in. The pilot started swaying left and right to find something to get a bearing in the white-out and he found something… the trees. I will never forget going from total dizzying whiteness to cedar tree branches pressed up against the plexiglass window, the sound of chop chop chop, the smell of Christmas (smelled like fresh-cut Christmas tree I swear) and then the loudest horn ever and a big red light on the dash that said “stall”; I was in the co-pilot seat.
Somehow we managed to spot a rock by the lake and the pilot slammed it down hard but amazingly nobody got hurt and the smoke from the engine never turned to flame. We were dang lucky.
25. Blood-Curdling Plane-Wing Sled Ride
I was involved in a ground loop that we both walked away from and the plane remained undamaged, however, it was very close to a crash with substantial damage and injury. A friend of mine took me up in a borrowed Aeronca Champ, which is similar to a J-3 Cub in that it is a tube frame aircraft with fabric covering and a taildragger as well. The flight was totally fine and fun, however, on landing the pilots airspeed on the final descent was about 70 mph with a right crosswind of near 10 mph. We touched down at 60 mph on the left main first, the right wing immediately came up pushing the left wing within inches of the pavement. This caused the airplane to make an immediate 90 degree turn where we bounded through a snowbank and off into a field.
As soon as the aircraft started to ground loop my only thoughts were to brace for impact covering my vital torso with my arms, thinking this is going to hurt and I hope I do not get impaled. After making it out okay, I helped him dig the plane out of the snowbank and get it started again, and then like the idiot I am, hopped back in and went for another ride around the pattern to let him redeem himself.
24. Horrifying Hot Air Balloon Accident
I was in a hot air balloon crash. We spent ages up in the air and we kept trying to land at an oval or somewhere safe, but the wind picked up as we were flying and blew us into dangerous areas where we couldn’t land. The pilot (I think that’s what they are still called) told us that we might run out of fuel if this keeps up and he would see what he could do to get us safely down.
This continued for a while, and we ended up all crouching down in the basket, as he got the balloon as low as he could as the fuel ran out, we ended up crashing into the top story of a house in the suburbs and scraping most of the tiles off the roof, someone almost fell out, luckily the house slowed us down and that street was open enough for the car that had been following us to grab the drop rope and pull/winch the balloon down safely.
No one was hurt, thankfully, but scared the bejesus out of everyone. I’m unsure if I’d ever go on a balloon ride ever again.
23. We Need To Land NOW!
I was in a helicopter when the engine failed. I used to have a job that required me to fly in the helicopter every day as a passenger. One day as we were chugging along the warning lights start lighting up and alarms are sounding. Luckily we were right next to the airport and the pilot radioed that we need to make an emergency landing.
We did what was called an autorotate, which means even though the engine quit there is still enough inertia in the blades to land, but you have to land now. The landing was pretty hard, but everyone was okay. I wasn’t scared or nervous when it was happening, it happened so fast I don’t think I had time to be. But afterward, we were like what the heck just happened?
22. Time Seemed To Stand Still
I was flying. Time slowed to a crawl. My friend and I had a conversation as the plane went into the trees and the wings came off one by one. I watched a ladybug take flight from a pine needle as we crashed past, spinning and toppling end over end. When the plane stopped we calmly undid our seatbelts and got out. Ten minutes later we were both shaking uncontrollably.
21. A Chilling Close-Call
I was a kid on some big Boeing jet. We were coming in for a landing, engines powered low, flaps extended. We were getting close to the ground when, without warning, the engines roared to full and the plane nearly went vertical. Once we levelled off again, there were confused murmurings from the passengers. The pilot apologized for the sudden maneuver, explaining that control had told them the runway was clear, when in fact we were coming down on a taxiing plane.
20. A Frightening Slide From Safety
I was in a plane “crash.” We crashed while on the ground! I was 9 years old and flying as an unaccompanied minor, back in ’99. So this was the first flight of the morning leaving out of a Colorado airport in December. It had snowed the night before and the roads were pretty icy. All was fine though. They de-iced the plane and we left the gate only 10 minutes later than we should have. We get into position on the runway for takeoff and the pilot begins taking off and getting up to speed. Instead of leaving the ground, however, we slide off the runway at full speed.
Everyone was screaming and losing their minds. I actually followed the procedures outlined in that stupid manual they tell you to read and put my hands on the seat in front of me, with my head between my arms. Once we came to a stop, our wheel was dug into the ground and we were tilted, with one of the wings dug into the ground.
19. Eerie Engine On Fire
Back in 1995 when I was 6, I got on an Air India flight from Kuwait to India. I was sitting in the middle and heard people screaming as the plane took off and could see a bright light on the right side of the plane. I believe the engine caught on fire. They shut that off, took a huge turn, and landed back to the runway in about a couple minutes. I was pretty much laughing at what was going on because I had no idea how intense the situation was but there were a lot of scared people on that flight.
18. Their Lips Are Sealed
I was about 13, I was traveling with my family and some other ex-pats from Shanghai to X’ian to see the famous terracotta warriors. This was the 90’s, and China Airlines went by the acronym CAAC, which people called either “China Airlines Always Cancelled” or “China Airlines Always Crashes,” depending on how dark the mood was that day.
So, on the day of the trip, we get loaded up into a tiny plane with propeller engines. Maybe 20-30 seats in the whole thing. It was obviously ancient, even to a kid like me, and probably a relic from the Soviet Union. I immediately got nervous. I’d flown a lot by then, and never in something so shaky. The plane was groaning and wobbling as we got our seats. My French friend took out her crucifix and started kissing it and mumbling to it in French as soon as we sat down.
The plane had a shaky take-off, it was jerky and wasn’t a normal smooth gradual takeoff. It just sort of jerked up into the air all of a sudden. They did the announcements in Chinese only, which even at that time was fairly unusual.
We went along for about 45 minutes, and things were rattling around, but stable. Then the turbulence started. It felt like the plane was dropping thousands of feet in a second then picking up a bit, then dropping again. It really felt like the plane was having some sort of malfunction and was having a hard time staying in the air.
One of our party, an older American gentleman, had a pilot’s license so the grownups all decided to send him up front to talk to the pilot. He came back white as a sheet and said that no one in the crew could speak English, which was a problem because the flight towers were communicating in English first, then Chinese.
That’s when I saw my mom and stepdad and all the other adults really start to get nervous. My french friend and her crucifix were at it again. My sister was maybe 4 at the time and she felt that everyone else was nervous and started to cry. Then the plane just started literally falling out of the sky. It felt like free-fall, and the hatches for the oxygen masks opened, but no oxygen masks were there. They had all been taken out. I screamed at that point, I thought we really were going to crash.
All of a sudden, the plane leveled out, but you could kind of tell we were flying way too low. Our pilot friend and his translator were trying to get the pilot to say something, anything, about what was going on, but he refused. They said the copilot and stewardess looked really scared but wouldn’t tell them anything, either.
Finally, they came on the speaker and told us we’d be landing at a small airstrip to change planes. We landed literally in the middle of nowhere, it must have been a military installation, because it was just a landing strip and a building in the middle of a cornfield.
17. Horrible Plummet Of Panic
I was recently on a commercial flight which lost its cabin pressure at around 27,000 feet. The series of events put me in a scenario where I got to witness people’s reactions as if we were crashing.
We had no idea what was going on; the oxygen masks deployed and we entered into a very bumpy nosedive…
It was eerie when the masks first came down. Nobody put their masks on at first. We were all sort of just “frozen.”
I looked at the guy to my left and said: “well this is a first…” And then proceeded to take a photo… All without putting my mask on.
After about a minute the flight attendants yelled: “PUT YOUR MASKS ON AND FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS!!!!!” After which they did the same, as did all the passengers (very quickly). We all had no idea what was going on and thought we were going to crash.
While many people were clearly panicked, generally the demeanor was relatively calm. I took the opportunity to document the experience live on Reddit (while my girlfriend was screaming at me to hold her hand and tell her it was going to be OK).
Once we leveled off at 10,000 feet, the pilots finally came on the PA and told us what had happened (we lost cabin pressure, had to initiate an emergency descent). We made a safe emergency landing at the nearest airport.
16. Preparing For The Worst
I was on a British Airways 757 and we aborted our landing at Heathrow. The captain comes on and says the indicator showing that the front landing gear is down and locked in place wasn’t turning on. We made a low-altitude pass in front of the control tower and they confirmed the landing gear was down.
The second time around, we assumed the crash position, and we landed between two rows of emergency vehicles, while the head flight attendant yelled “HEAD DOWN! HEAD DOWN!” all the way until we stopped.
The woman seated next to me was flying with her kids and husband but they were seated in another row. She was pretty upset on the final approach. I offered her my hand and she grabbed it HARD all the way down.
Everyone else was pretty calm. I remember thinking that I had good life insurance, so my family would be OK if anything happened.
15. Alarming National Guardsmen Rescue
I was flying with a friend in Northern Minnesota and I had to make an emergency landing in a field. It was windy and as he was making the descent, gusty winds screwed him up and he came down angled. When we came down, he cut his face on the console or stick and was out of it.
I was fine and got out of the plane, pulled my friend out, and grabbed the go-bag from the storage area. I tried our cell phones, but his had a cracked screen (bad) and mine got no service. He had called on the radio before the crash and had told the emergency services guy that we were making an emergency landing. I got on the radio and called that we just crashed and my friend was hurt badly. National Guardsmen had to come to get us.
I wasn’t so scared when he told me that we would have to make a landing, but was nervous. I had the jitters and had my eyes on my feet the whole time.
When he told me the wind was too strong, I got scared. He couldn’t get the nose back up and told me to brace. I had my hands on both sides of the plane (it was tandem style seating) and started praying.
14. Hair-Raising Reference To “Souls On Board”
I was flying from Colorado back home to New Jersey. The plane started to descend quickly in the middle of the flight. Everyone looks around confused. The flight attendant is talking to someone on the phone/p.a. system then immediately sprints to her seat and buckles in. The oxygen masks drop down. There’s more confusion, then everyone freaks out and puts the masks on. The plane is still dropping quickly.
I look around to see kids are crying, I see an older couple holding hands, and a man listening to something on his headphones. Apparently, there is a channel on the radio where you can listen in on the captain’s radio. I listen in and hear the captain refer to all of us as a hundred something “souls on board.” I think that was the scariest part for some reason. I’m sure it’s normal to refer to people as souls, but in that context, it was haunting. The plane ended up having to emergency land in Chicago. I never found out why the plane malfunctioned but we all got free beverages on the next flight.
13. A Paralyzing Last-Minute Impact Warning
When I was in my crash last summer, no one said anything until the pilot said something right before the wing started to hit trees. The cockpit was silent except for the sounds of the wing, the propeller hitting the ground, and the crunching of sheet metal when we ended up in the trees.
Upon stopping, the silence was broken when the “everyone okay” questions started. We forced the door open, got our gear out and walked back to the shack next to the runway. The pilot was very unhappy, their personal plane was totaled, but we all walked away. My buddy and I were so hopped up on adrenaline though, it was strange. I wasn’t sore until the next day, and an emergency room visit saying low back strain was my worst result.
12. Missed Approach
It was particularly foggy in LA, and we were going in for a landing in a Boeing 737 that was pretty full. I couldn’t see a thing out the windows, then we started accelerating and going back up. The captain came on and said that they couldn’t see the runway and had to execute a missed approach and go around and try to land again. I thought nothing of it myself because my parents were private pilots, and I knew enough about what it meant that it didn’t concern me in the least–in fact, I was thinking, “oh neat”–so I went back to reading my book.
So we circled around and went down again and landed quite normally, but when we touched down there was a large audible sigh of relief in the cabin from the other passengers. I hadn’t even acknowledged until they sighed that it had been particularly quiet after the announcement. I guess “missed approach” could sound scary, and in all the time I’ve flown I’ve never had to go around again, so I guess I can see how that might be disconcerting for some.
When I was first in college in the early 90’s I knew a few avionics majors, or later I think the major was called simply aeronautics. Anyways I knew a few guys who flew planes for school, and on weekends some of them would rent planes just to practice and fart around. I joined two guy one fine day in a Cessna 152 to fly over to Stockton and back for lunch, and hit a few small airports for landing practice then head home.
On the way home we were over Mt. Diablo (funny), this is a mountain in SF bay area by the way. Around 6000 or so feet the engine just died. No issue they said (there were 3 on the plane, 2 in front were pilots and me holding down the fort in back). Start engine sequence no response…did a few things….a few more things, restart….no response. At this point, it was called to the local tower to report an emergency. Tower response was something close to…Just restart it. After a little back and forth it became clear our situation was real, and we were nowhere near enough to any local airport, we were too slow, too low and although had full control, it was going down. At this point ( I have no idea what I would do on a passenger jet, but right now I got hired for a job), we all stuck our heads down and started trying to find a place to try to land.
The second pilot, the guy in the number 2 seat, was a more experienced pilot at that time and was telling me what to look for. Hwy 580, or Hwy 24 was too busy, and since it was mainly residential there was turns and roads and power lines everywhere…..until we saw the golf course. Nice and flat with a beautiful par 5 just below us. We were at about 3000 ft now but slowing fast, if we coasted then banked hard we could make it.
Side note: although the engine died the prop turned for a while, at this point, it finally stopped…it was well, so peaceful, made me want to try to hang gliding later.
We sent our intentions to the tower, who at this point was also sending multiple suggestions and advice. It was silent for a second Then… “We just lost you from radar….um I never thought I’d have to say this, but good luck, and if not, God be with you.”
A hard bank later we were in final approach. The first thing we noticed, it was not flat at all but on a hill and slopped down, and there were people playing. This is the best part, we saw a guy was playing his second shot, and I remember it vividly. He had to be at least 90, you could see the cart and a walker so he could get support to get to his ball 4 feet from the cart. Someone next to him pointed at us. He looked back, then shrugged turned around and lined up his shot…stopped…looked back again…you could almost see the realization from where we were, and he took off so fast Usain Bolt wouldn’t have caught him. Everyone started laughing, we were 5 seconds from touch down, and 10 seconds from becoming a grease stain, but that was one of the funniest things I ever saw.
The plane touched hard, it wasn’t a runway so we felt every bump, and were tossed about. we were slowing but not fast enough now, at the end by the tee boxes for the hole was a brick wall that separated the course from the street we were going right into it, I thought “Well here it ends”……we were airborne again.
The plane hit the ladies tee, which was raised a bit and it sloped. We hit it like a skateboard on a ramp. Flying over the wall around 40 feet up. The wings tore off branches from trees, at this point, I got smacked in the face by some branches. then we tumbled, the world spun. Then I was hanging by my seat belt. The plane had flipped, spun and nosed into the center divide of the street behind the course. The tail also smacked the windshield of a truck driving by(talk about unlucky for him).
We hung for a bit then did a fast pat-down, we had to kick a door open, then unlocked the seat belts and just fell out, and went to sit on a curb on the side of the street. The fire department arrived. The sirens stopped they got out, looked at the plane and started lining up body bags. One was looking into the cockpit, and his face….just turned around and said, “What the hell….it’s empty.” We all stood up said, “Hey over here, that was our bad.”
10. Plane Ice Skating
Apparently, right after I was born, my parents and I were on a flight back to our home in Montana and the pilot was forced to land in a huge snowstorm on our small town’s runway. The runway crew hadn’t been able to keep up with all the snow and there was a nice coating of ice under about 1-3 foot of snow and upon touchdown, the plane started to slide and the front wheel was damaged and broke off. Luckily the planes speed was slow enough that we didn’t slide off of the runway and onto the highway that was close to the end of the runway and no one was hurt.
9. Just Happy To Be Alive
My mother’s partner was in a plane crash. The landing gear didn’t properly go down on the plane or something and it crash-landed on the runway.
Apparently, most people at the front of the plane were killed instantly but he was fully conscious and uninjured minus a few cuts and bruises.
As soon as everything came to a standstill the passenger beside him just said, “Well that was a bumpy landing!”
He said it completely diffused the whole situation and they were just laughing until the emergency services got to him. He also said if that person hadn’t come out with that it would be unlikely he’d have got on another plane.
8. Sideways Liftoff
One particular event that stands out in my memory was an emergency air ambulance flight I was taking from Leesburg, FL to Youngstown, Ohio in a Learjet 25D. It was afternoon in FL and there was a squall line covering the entire state moving our direction. We would have been fine but the ambulance was running late and the squall line literally hit us like a train as we were on the takeoff roll on the runway.
I was the nonflying pilot so I was calling out the airspeeds, “80 knots, 90 knots.” At this time the front hit us and the aircraft weathervaned and the plane veered off the runway. At this point we were beyond V1, meaning we were going too fast and stopping before we hit the tree line was not possible. We were committed to going flying.
I called “rotate” at 120 knots and then again at 130 knots and then had to elbow the flying pilot and get him to get us off the ground before we collided with the tree line. I believe he was in a small state of shock but we took off and cleared the trees by 20-30 feet.
This is when the story got scary. Air traffic control had us fly directly into the squall line because of massive traffic jam going into Orlando, normally I would have told them to pound mud but I could see heavy metal all over the place and had no idea where all the traffic was, I skirted around the side of the front as long as I could but by this time we were over the Atlantic and close to not being able to reach our destination due to burning fuel at low altitudes. I decided to punch through it before the turbulence, icing and the hail ended us all.
The turbulence was so bad I lost control of the plane and was doing what I could to keep the engines from flaming out. Hail damaged cracked some of the outer passenger windows. The plastic headliner in the cockpit was shattered into pieces from how hard our heads hit the ceiling. We use to keep the JEPP books stuffed in between the pilot and copilot seats and I remember a moment where I could taste the metal from hitting my head so hard and looking at the books and everything was in slow motion and those books were just floating there above their usually secure home and in an instant they fired like a canon to the back of the jet hitting some of the passengers. The force dropped the oxygen masks too just to add more fear to the people in the back.
We got on the other side of the weather and climbed to cruising altitude and made it to Ohio with no other issues.
I remember it taking a few days before my nerves settled and I stopped shaking. I was 100% convinced I was going to die. Our trip ended there so I had a few beverages in the hotel bar, where we stayed for a few nights while the windows got repaired.
7. UUUH OOOH!
My brother in law flew a small Italian family on holiday around in a prop plane on Papua New Guinea around 20 years ago. The propellor suddenly stopped spinning when they were flying over the jungle in the middle of nowhere.
I asked him if he did an announcement or warned the passenger what was going on. He replied he didn’t really pay attention to that and figured they worked it out for themselves when he shouted “UUUH OOOH!!” when working all controls furiously on a plane that was quickly losing altitude.
Decent crashlanding. Though the plane was scrap, everyone lived, and rescue was a couple of hours later. They still keep in touch.
6. Final Words
I was on a business flight when the landing gear wouldn’t drop down. I was internally freaking out but everyone else was calm on the plane so I stayed quiet. Edit: I’m not the dramatic type but I was amazed at everyone’s apparent shrug of indifference. It made me question the importance of landing gear because to me, it was NOT GOOD.
It was a 1 by 3 seating arrangement so a smaller plane and only a single attendant. He kept giving us snacks and drinks to keep us distracted while they were working to get them unstuck. The pilot kept us updated (manually trying, system trying, etc). The attendant was very grateful that we were so calm.
I wasn’t sure what was going to happen but when we were approaching, I managed to get a sliver of a bar and texted my parents first and told them what was going on.
My “last words” so to speak were “I love you very much. Don’t give away my cat.”
This is and was hugely important and I’m a grown adult now. Last words still apply.
The landing went okay. I think they got the landing gear partially unstuck and it was enough to land but they had fire trucks ready and available.
5. A Plane’s Parachute
My buddy who was 26 at the time just got his pilot license. We decided it to go to the Limpopo bushveld in South Africa for a trip and rented a 28-Cheroke to fly out from Durban. About 80 KM from the landing strip and 9000ft high a piston blew and the plane started shooting oil everywhere. It sounded like the plane exploded and was scary as heck at first.
We were really lucky we were well prepared for this, the plane had a frame parachute that my friend opened ASAP, he called in the emergency on the radio and I put on the motorcycle helmet we had with us just in case it was a hard landing. The plane was angled nose down and it was scary as hell. When we hit the ground we were tilted about 45 degrees and the seatbelt winded me real bad I could not breathe for at least a minute and my friend fractured two ribs and bashed his head really bad.
I knocked out an important dial on the radio with my helmet when we crashed rendering it useless so the rescue team probably thought we were dead. We started having drinks and shared some cigarettes after the crash to calm down and about an hour after a rescue helicopter showed up and gave us some sedatives then took us to a hospital.
4. Not The Dive You Were Looking For
I was in a small plane crash while skydiving a few years ago. Just after takeoff, we lost power. We were heading directly toward a Walmart at around 600 feet and losing altitude. The pilot made an abrupt 90 degree turn to the left. I originally thought we were turning sharply to avoid other traffic, or that air control had vectored us off for some reason but quickly realized the engine was stopping.
The left wing dipped pretty sharply as he put the flaps down, and I ended up looking down into the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store. I remember thinking that if we came down in that parking lot, the light-posts would probably act like cheese-graters to our plane.
The jumper in front of me, who was sitting with his back to the dash, looked over to the pilot who confirmed we were in trouble and then back at us. He told us to brace for impact. The pilot was aiming for a small grass lot behind a gas station. Unfortunately, we didn’t clear the power lines (or the pole itself). I didn’t have my seatbelt on, or my helmet on, and I was trying to decide if I wanted to try to buckle or put my helmet on.
I realized there wasn’t going to be time and I just tried to brace myself by grabbing the door frame. I felt the tandem instructor in back grab the back of my rig. I knew I was probably dead. I wasn’t scared, but I was incredibly disappointed. I never expected that I’d actually die skydiving — or doing anything, really. The last thing I remember seeing before I bounced off the roof of the plane was the right wing skipping off a wooden pole as it splintered.
I was all groggy for a bit but came to hanging over the pilot’s seat. The door had popped open and thrown him to the ground, then swung back shut over his legs. We had to kick it out and walk over his chest to get out, but we went back and tried to drag him away from the plane. We’d just filled up and a full load of fuel was pouring all over the parking lot we’d landed in. Having just hit a power line, we assumed it was going to blow up. He brushed our hands off him and went back into the plane to get his hat and some documents. He seemed completely unfazed for having just crash-landed a plane.
We all got away with nothing more than a few bruises (and a minor concussion). I stopped jumping for about 16 months. The drop zone closed down, was purchased by a different owner, got a new plane, and reopened. I started jumping again shortly afterward.
3. A Christmas Tree Of Alarms
I’m flying back after Christmas from rural Victoria to Brisbane. The first leg was a twin-engine beech from my memory, it seated about 9 people. I was young, about 15, and I was one of two or three people on the flight. The pilot let me sit up front in the copilot seat as I was in the air cadets at the time and very into aircraft.
About halfway through the flight, I notice a few engine warning lights start to flash. Then an oil pressure alarm started going off. The pilot glanced over at the right-hand engine just as there was a bang and oil started hemorrhaging out of the engine cowling and over the wing. The pilot quickly shut the engine down as it started to smoke and says we have a small problem but it’s fine.
Alarms are going off everywhere, the other passengers are aware we have lost an engine but other than that, none the wiser. But I can see what appeared to be a Christmas tree of alarms. The pilot radios in and diverts to the closest airport and calls in for an emergency landing. The closest airport was about 20 minutes away. I was starting to freak out a bit as the pilot fought the aircraft on one engine. As we get closer, I glance over at the pilot and see he is filling out a maintenance form, strongly worded. Even at 15 I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation.
Fast forward to the landing, he nails the touchdown and we all get off. The pilot buys us lunch while a maintenance crew looks at the engine. It turns out it was a cheap valve or something that had failed. About 2 hours later we were cleared to fly and finished the trip (albeit quite nervous!)
2. A Newsworthy Emergency Landing
I was on a Southwest flight landing in Minneapolis. The first thing that tipped me off that something was wrong was when I checked my phone and we were 20 minutes late and hadn’t started our descent nor had we received an announcement from the cockpit. There was nothing I could do so I went back to reading my book. A few minutes later I saw something I had never seen before and hope to never see again.
The steward came running to the back of the plane where I was sitting at full speed with a look of panic on his face. A minute later the steward announced that our flaps wouldn’t extend and that we would have to make an emergency landing in after we burned off some fuel.
While we burned off fuel they had safety briefings for those in the emergency rows. Since I was in the very back of the plane and had an aisle seat I would be responsible for opening the right-hand door while the steward handled the left-hand door.
I had time to get a signal and text my wife. Most everyone else was doing the same. It was quiet in the plane, no one freaked out or panicked. During the landing they had us brace in crash positions. As for the landing itself, it was the smoothest landing I’ve ever had, the captain was a real professional and put the plane down with the lightest touch even though he was way above his normal landing speed. On the way off the plane I saw him in the cockpit, he was soaked in sweat and you could tell he was physically and mentally exhausted. I think it was then that it sunk in for me just how much danger we really had been in.
My landing made the evening news and I saw it on TV that night in my hotel room. Funny thing was a few months later I received a letter from Southwest denying any emergency took place on that flight.
1. A Horrendous Water-Landing Threat
I was in an almost-plane crash, on a flight from Newark to Istanbul. Something didn’t feel right as we were boarding, but I think because the flight next to us had just been canceled, they got us on board and hoped for the best.
Anywho, about 1.5 hours over the Atlantic Ocean, something seems off. Then the pilot comes on saying there is a mechanical issue and they’re not sure what’s going on, but to prepare for a water landing. Everyone is confused and it was dead quiet (it was also night time so some people were asleep). The flight attendants start wandering the aisles more and more frequently, making us more worried since we had no idea what was going on and we didn’t hear from the captain. A few minutes later, the captain comes on and says there is a problem with the engine and they’re turning around and going to attempt to make it back to land.
Meanwhile, the flight attendants are rushing back and forth and trying to get people to look at the safety instructions. By this point, everyone is awake (as far as I can tell). According to people I talked to afterward, one flight attendant went and sat down and put her face in her arms. Another one apparently told someone that “people don’t usually survive water landings.”
It was just me and my mom, and the whole time I kept thinking about my little sister, and how she was going to have to grow up without a mom. It was pretty terrifying, but you would be amazed at how quiet the cabin was. After the worst turbulence I ever felt in my life, and the most silence I have ever experienced, we were able to make an emergency landing in Newfoundland.