On the list of freaky things you don’t want to hear your airplane pilot say mid-flight, a PA announcement asking passengers to pray for a safe landing ranks somewhere near the top.
However, an AirAsia pilot from Perth to Kuala Lumpur recently said just that, terrifying passengers when he told them he was praying for a safe landing and asking them to pray, too. (The flight turned back and landed without further incident, so maybe those prayers actually worked.)
The ill-advised AirAsia announcement piqued our curiosity: Where exactly does that transgression rank on the list of scariest things a pilot could say?
We spoke to a pilot for a major carrier on condition of anonymity, who confirmed that scary things happen in the cockpit all the time: “Airline flying is like having an enjoyable meal at your favorite restaurant. Sometimes it is best not to ask what goes on in the kitchen.”
The pilot continued, “I’ve flown commercial aircraft for over 30 years. In those years, I have had an aircraft descend onto my altitude and miss us by 300 feet at 34,000 feet. I had a small twin prop try to land on me, and only missed us by 27 feet. And I once was taxiing with a very fast moving aircraft on the wrong taxiway, which almost rammed me and missed us by three feet.”
All very reassuring.
And that's exactly why passengers typically don't fully know what goes down: "You don’t hear these stories, because of the professionalism and quick reaction of the pilots,” he continues, “but believe me, they happen everyday.”
Here are some of the most terrifying of all time.
1. “A 50/50 chance...”
Last month, an EasyJet pilot reportedly told passengers on a flight from Malaga to Bristol that there was a "50/50" chance both its engines would work, and then asked for a "show of hands" regarding whether they should take off. (EasyJet denies the story.)
2. “We don't want to die.”
In 2016, a Ryanair flight attendant joked with Belfast-bound passengers over the PA system: "We have ice on the wings and we don't want to die," in response to why the plane was taking off eight hours late from Glasgow. RyanAir later released a terse statement: 'We will be speaking to the crew member involved and apologise for the regrettable comment she made in the heat of the moment.”
3. “We're going down.”
Passengers onboard a 2013 Southwest flight from Tampa to Raleigh-Durham had an unpleasant shock when their pilot suddenly said, "We're in trouble, we're going down,” before the plane took a nosedive. Ultimately, the flight landed safely, and a passenger later provided CNN with an email from a Southwest representative claiming that the pilot had activated the PA system by accident.
4. “We're about to hit the mountain.”
Jordan Reid, of Ramshackle Glam, says, “I was on a flight to St. Bart's where the pilot said, ‘It's going to look like we're about to hit that mountain, but don't worry, we're not.’ To get to St Bart's you fly through the teeniest, tiniest crack in a mountain that you literally cannot see unless you are sitting in the pilot seat, and you drop so quickly that all these alarms and red lights go off, but apparently that's...normal.” (The landing is, indeed, notoriously scary.)
5. What they didn't say
Comedian Steve Hofstetter says, “My scariest flight involved what they didn’t say. On a four-hour flight out of Houston, we started to descend to land after 20 minutes. No announcement as to why. Just a bunch of strangers making eye contact, trying not to panic, assuming that if something was really wrong, they’d say something, right? Finally, 15 minutes later, the pilot announced we were landing back in Houston due to emergency maintenance. That was a very long 15 minutes."
6. “We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”
Thanks to a pre-recorded message on a 2012 British Airways flight from Miami to London, passengers heard a female voice announcing over the intercom at 3 a.m., “This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.” Though another announcement telling people to ignore the warning was played, the 330 passengers aboard reportedly went into a panic. Incredibly, the same announcement had been accidentally played the year before, on a BA flight from London to Hong Kong.
7. “A quick, watery grave”
Passengers heading to Barbados from London on Monarch Airlines were horrified when their pilot said that technical issues with the reverse thrusters could have led to “a quick, watery grave,” referencing a 1999 Thai flight that flipped in mid-air and killed all 213 people on board. A passenger on the Monarch flight, Mike Bloxam, later took to Facebook, writing, "Safety is of course the most paramount consideration. But to mention planes flipping over and watery graves as you wait to take off is totally unacceptable."
8. “Brace for impact.”
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger rose to national fame when he safely landed the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight following a bird-strike and dual-engine failure. While it had a famously happy ending, the incident was terrifying to passengers onboard, who heard Sully say “This is the captain. Brace for impact.” Flight attendants then began chanting, "Keep your head down, brace for impact."
9. “All four engines have stopped.”
The mother of all airplane announcements came in 1982, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur now known as the Jakarta incident. After his plane ran into volcanic dust, triggering engine failure, Captain Eric Moody issued a now-legendary announcement in the grand tradition of British understatement: "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." Though flames engulfed the engines, the oxygen masks dropped, the plane went into a 6,000-foot nosedive, the cockpit windshield shattered, and the landing equipment failed, incredibly, Captain Moody successfully (and manually) glided the plane to the ground. Everybody aboard survived.
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