The 6 Most Badass Airline Pilots To Ever Stare Down Death

#3. American Airlines Flight 96

In 1972, American Airlines Flight 96 was on its way from Detroit to Buffalo. Just after taking off, there was the sound of a massive crash. Pilot Bryce McCormick, known for having the most piloty name in history, thought he'd just been in a mid-air collision.

Getty
Or it was just a really tall baggage handler.

One of the engines went down. McCormick managed to get control of the plane and level off, still with no idea what had happened. He decided to turn around and go back to Detroit -- which, to be honest, is probably the only good reason to ever go back to Detroit.

Then, in the passenger area of the plane, a fog suddenly formed. Just as the crew was realizing this meant sudden decompression, the floor of the cabin started to collapse into the cargo hold. What the shit?

Getty
"Um, can we start over? I feel like way too much shit is going wrong."

It turned out someone had forgotten to seal the cargo door, and the force of the takeoff had ripped it straight off and tossed it into the tail of the plane, disrupting the engine and the flaps in the back. And because the aircraft wasn't sealed, the inside began breaking up due to the sudden decrease in pressure. Passengers were told to brace themselves for an emergency landing, and to put their yellow oxygen masks on. Oh, wait, the oxygen bags didn't drop because they're only deployed when the plane is above 14,000 feet, and they were a few thousand feet under that window.

Getty
"So we're in agreement. 13,000 feet is for pussies and food trays should crush your sternum
whenever the person in front lies back. Brilliant work."

With shit officially getting real and the plane breaking up from the inside out, McCormick attempted a landing. They were coming in too hard and too fast, the sluggish controls putting the plane on a collision course with the hard surface of the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. McCormick fought to level out the plane, and got the wheels to the pavement, only to see the plane go skidding wildly off the runway.

He wrestled the big bastard back under control, the plane finally coming to a rest with two of the three landing gear sitting in the grass off the side of the pavement. The result: a few minor injuries. Amazing, considering an identical cargo door accident outside Paris resulted in the deaths of everybody on board. Either McCormick and his crew are damned good, or they're so lucky they shit rainbows.

Via VibraciaX
We're not engineers, but we don't think this is a cooling vent.

#2. United Airlines Flight 232

We'll warn you ahead of time, this one doesn't have as happy an ending as the rest.

In 1989, United Flight 232 took off from Denver for Chicago. About an hour into the flight, an engine's fan disk failed. If that sounds like a fairly important part of a jet engine, you're right -- the result was the engine blew out, damaging the tail fins and sending shrapnel into the plane's hydraulic lines.

That last bit is also important -- the hydraulics maneuver the flaps, rudder, stabilizer and pretty much every critical control of the aircraft, so this would be sort of like your bicycle partially exploding mid-pedal and taking off most of your right foot.

Via Wikipedia
Detailed on this technical thing.

Since hydraulic fluid was now leaking at a pretty serious pace, the controls of the plane became weaker and weaker. Pilot Alfred Haynes began to pull the throttle to idle, but there was another problem -- the damage to the plane had the throttle stuck on full power. So now you're on an out of control bicycle, footless and hurtling downhill with no brakes.

The crew was finally able to cut off some fuel to the engine to get it to slow down, at which point they discovered that the yoke wasn't working either. In short, they now had no control of the plane whatsoever. Improvising, Haynes and crew had to manually rev the remaining engines up and down to try to manipulate the rudderless aircraft and get it back to something close to level.

Via Wikipedia
We assume they did everything short of flapping their arms really hard.

An emergency landing alert was quickly issued to the plane at the Sioux City airport in Iowa. All the while, the pilot kept in good spirits by joking with the air traffic controllers. Hey, did we mention that at the time, no plane that lost all hydraulics ever landed safely? And that, in fact, no one had ever survived that situation?

As they came in to land, the crew managed to get the landing gear down and announced to the passengers that they should brace for impact. With no hydraulics, they were unable to control the speed at which the plane could land. A normal landing is at 140 knots, Flight 232 was coming in at 240 knots, which is less like landing and more like crashing at an angle.


Totally under control.

The wing of the plane hit first and burst into flames. The plane bounced violently and the tail section snapped off. After skidding further, the other wing came off and the plane ground to a halt, with fire and emergency crews rushing to the scene.

A third of the passengers lost their lives (many weren't because of the crash, but from inhaling the smoke that filled the cabin) but the efforts of Haynes, co-pilot William Records and engineer Dudley Dvorak, saved the lives of 200 people.

#1. Miracle on the Hudson

In 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, just after takeoff from New York, hit a flock of Canadian geese. The birds obscured the windshield, which would be bad on its own. But they also clogged up both engines, and the plane lost all power.

Getty
Nature has finally learnt kamikaze.

What makes this case different from any on the list is that there would be no limping back to the airport for a hard landing on the runway. They weren't going to have the power to get back to an airport. Captain "Sully" Sullenburger radioed traffic control and told them as much.

Via dailyplanetdispatch.com
Presumably ending the call with "Yippie-kiy-yay, motherfucker."

He was going to have to set the plane down, which meant finding something other than a runway. In this case, all they had was the Hudson River.

If landing an airliner on a river already sounds like trying to float a boat through an iceberg, well, the situation was actually worse than that. Right ahead of the plane was a little obstacle called the George Washington Bridge. It happens to span the Hudson River right across the spot where Sullenburger's plane was going to make its descent. No one was more surprised than Sullenburger, by the way, who in all the excitement had forgotten the bridge was there (which is understandable because his windshield was covered in dead goose).

Getty
"Outta my way, asshole!"

At this point, his instruments started screeching warnings about how he was about to crash into something huge and bridge-shaped.

Amazingly, the plane cleared the bridge by less than 900 feet, which had to be a nice wake-up call to the drivers on the bridge who looked up to see this hulking plane suddenly blotting out the sun.

Getty
"Great, I'm given a full fat latte and now this. I hate New York."

Sullenburger guided the plane down. Finally it slammed into the river at about 150 miles per hour, crashing into the waves with an impact that inside the plane must have sounded like the goddamned world was ending. But the plane held together, and everyone survived.

Rescue boats rushed to the scene and pulled everyone out of the freezing water. Sullenburger was the last one off.

Getty
After his mustache.

For more on the world of piloting, check out 6 WWI Fighter Pilots Whose Balls Deserve Their Own Monument and 7 Planes Perfectly Designed (To Kill The People Flying Them).

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here

555 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!