Admit it: At one time or another, you've thought, Man, being an airline pilot seems like a pretty easy job. And even they'll tell you that airliners pretty much fly themselves. For most of the trip, the pilot is there to make sure nothing goes wrong.
But sometimes, things do go wrong. Way wrong. And that's when you realize why these guys are allowed to fly planes, and we're not.
In 1990, British Airways Flight 5390 had just taken off from London on its way to Spain. However, right as the flight attendants were about to wheel out the food cart, the windshield of the plane suddenly exploded. If you're wondering what happens to the pilot in that situation, here's a reconstruction:
It is incredibly difficult to fly a plane from this position.
That's pilot Tim Lancaster being sucked out of the plane -- the only thing keeping him from flying off into the distance and plummeting to his death was a flight attendant, who ran in and grabbed Lancaster by the belt.
This, by the way, is precisely the reason why planes have co-pilots. And here's where one Mr. Alastair Atchison stepped up to the goddamned plate.
It wasn't going to be easy. Aside from the flight attendant next to him clutching the pilot's legs with all of his strength, the sudden decompression also pulled the cockpit door into the cockpit, which blocked access to the throttle. When Atchison tried to get on the radio to declare an emergency, he couldn't hear the response due to all the chaos erupting around him.
"Will you lot stop bloody screaming! It's highly unprofessional."
It took several minutes to get emergency landing permission from an airport in Southampton, all the while with the pilot still outside the windshield from the knees up, being crushed against the plane at 500 miles per hour, suffering from frostbite and about to lose consciousness due to the thin air.
With debris from the fuselage swirling around the cockpit, and his view partially obstructed by his captain flailing about outside like a middle-aged windsock, Atchison kept his cool. He guided the plane to the ground, and gently landed 35 minutes after the windshield failure started the madness.
They then started the difficult process of peeling the pilot off the top of the plane.
Amazingly, the pilot not only survived, but had only a few bone fractures and some frostbite to show from his exterior plane ride. The only other person injured was the first flight attendant who hung onto him during the ordeal, also suffering from frostbite.
"You have to admit, Tim. It was kind of hilarious to see."
British Airways Flight 9 was flying from London to New Zealand in 1982, and was on one of the last legs of the trip, going from Malaysia to Perth, Australia. Ash from a nearby volcano soon started to fill the air. The airplane went through it with no problem ... at first.
"Fuck you, Eyjafjallajokull" -- the 80s
An electrical anomaly known as St. Elmo's fire suddenly erupted on the windshield. The passenger cabin began to smell of sulfur. Then, one by one, the engines began failing, clogged with volcanic ash. After all four engines had ground to a halt, the flight engineer yelled, "I don't believe it, all four engines have failed!"
"Well, thanks, Captain Obvious. Hey, how about you sort this out. We're going to the mini bar."
At this point, the falling aircraft had about 23 minutes of glide time until it hit the ocean. The crew frantically tried to restart the engines in mid-air. With a crash landing possibly only minutes away, the pilot, Captain Eric Moody, made a breathtaking announcement over the PA: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."
"Please keep all hysteria to yourself to avoid disturbing passengers who are sleeping. Thank you."
The plane continued to lose altitude and the oxygen masks dropped in the passenger compartment. The crew was about one minute away from having to make an emergency landing in an ocean with a 747 -- something no one had ever tried.
Then, in between bouts of frenzied cursing and pants-inflating bowel explosions, Moody and his crew tried one more time to restart the engines ... and it worked. The engines spun back to life, one by one. They climbed and leveled the plane at 12,000 feet, then starting racing towards the nearest airport in Jakarta.
On the way, the engines started clicking off again.
Lady Luck always uses loaded dice.
And even worse, the windshield was so fogged up that they had to rely on the lights on the tarmac they could only see through a small, clear part of the windshield. And so they headed down, speeding toward the pavement, squinting through glass caked with goddamned volcano ash.
Finally, with the sound of 248 unclenching passenger buttholes, the wheels touched down. No lives were lost, but in the captain's own hilarious words, it was "a bit like negotiating one's way up a badger's arse."
In 1985, Chinese Airlines Flight 006 was flying from Taiwan to Los Angeles when an engine went out on the side of the plane. The same engine had failed twice on previous flights but restarted shortly after going out both times -- which, according to traditional aircraft maintenance guidelines, is totally just as good as actually working (you'll find out as this entry goes on that back then, Chinese airlines apparently just did not give a fuck).
Third time's a charm!
After the flight engineer tried and failed to revive the engine, the autopilot kicked in and tilted the plane 23 degrees to compensate for engine loss. But it didn't stop at 23 degrees. Pilot Min-Yuan Ho, drawing from his years of experience, determined that commercial airliners don't normally do this and disengaged the autopilot. By the time he did, the plane had tipped up on its side, and was falling fast.
Planes should not do this.
So now he was plummeting toward the ocean, blinded by clouds and working with an artificial horizon system that was saying everything was OK (even though it plainly was not). Things became even less OK when the plane started diving and turning at the same time, doing a barrel roll heading straight down, losing 10,000 feet of altitude in less than 20 seconds.
It was trying to spell "AARGH."
The pilot managed to wrestle the aircraft under control with about 20 seconds to spare before it would have splashed down.
But they weren't out of the woods. The landing gear was now stuck down, and the drag that it was causing meant they wouldn't have enough fuel to get to Los Angeles. They diverted to San Francisco, limping along on one engine. But the flight crew didn't even announce their landing as any kind of emergency to the stunned air traffic controllers. We told you, the Chinese didn't give a single fuck.
"San Francisco, could you move that tower slightly to the side? Frankly, it's just in the way."
It was only after learning of injuries on board that the tower declared the spiraling jumbo jet to be an emergency. Incredibly, it landed with just a broken tail wing and only two seriously injured passengers which, given the operation standards of the airline, was probably well within normal guidelines.