One of the most chilling chapters in bestselling author Dean Koontz’s many thrillers details a lone survivor’s experience of a horrific airplane crash. Even more terrible are these 10 harrowing emergency landings caught on tape… because they really happened!
10 Alaska Airlines Flight 1288
On August 20, 2023, during Tropical Storm Hilary, Alaskan Airlines Flight 1288’s 106 passengers’ anxiety increased tremendously when a problem with their Boeing 737’s landing gear forced the pilot to undertake a risky landing at John Wayne Airport.
The 737 parked on the runway rather than taxiing to the gate, and buses took passengers to the terminal building. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that the airliner’s left main gear had collapsed but could not determine why. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths.
Abhinav Amineni, who filmed the moment, admitted that he “was panicking,” thinking sparks along the runway might indicate that the airplane was about to burst into flames. His video offers a sense of the jitters he and his fellow passengers felt as they touched down roughly in the dark and raced along the wet runway as sparks streaked past the speeding airplane.
9 LOT Polish Airlines Flight LO16
As the result of a six-year, year-month-long investigation, Poland’s State Commission on Aircraft Accidents Investigation concluded that the November 1, 2011, LOT Polish Airlines’ Flight L012’s Boeing 747 landing gear wouldn’t work due to a combination of mechanical failures and human errors. Aircraft design features and other procedural omissions were contributing factors.
While the airplane circled the airport to burn off fuel, firefighters doused the runway with flame retardant. An ABC News video of the airplane’s crash-landing at a Warsaw airport shows the screeching aircraft skidding along the runway on its belly, emitting sparks and smoke from its underside. After it landed, the firefighters sprayed thick streams of water over the airplane, preventing it from bursting into flames.
Safe inside the terminal building, passengers praised Captain Tadeusz Wrona’s performance. One said that the landing was so “masterful” that the 747 had seemed to land “on [its] wheels.” None of the 220 passengers or 11 crew members who’d begun their trip in Newark were killed or injured.
8 Red Air Flight 203
As NBC News reports, when a Red Air twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-82, carrying 126 people, crash-landed at Miami International Airport on June 21, 2022, it burst into flames. Three of the people onboard were treated for minor injuries. After controlling the blaze, firefighters dealt with the aircraft’s fuel spill.
The airplane’s front landing gear collapse appears to have caused the fire. Video included with the NBC News article shows the fiery, smoking aircraft’s rough landing, first responders’ arrival on the scene, and firefighters subduing the fire.
7 Cathay Pacific Flight 780
A Civil Aviation Department’s Accident Investigation Department’s bulletin provides details concerning the April 13, 2010, crash-landing of the Airbus A330-342 in operation during Cathay Pacific Flight 780. The pilot announced the emergency situation as the aircraft approached the Hong Kong International Airport with 13 crew members and 309 passengers aboard, stating that there were “control problems on both engines.”
Despite these conditions, Captain Malcolm Waters and First Officer David Hayhoe landed the Airbus, but at a ground speed of 230 knots (approximately 265 mph or 167 km/h). After the rescue leader confirmed “fire and smoke on the wheels, the commander initiated an emergency evacuation of passengers.” There were no fatalities, but one passenger was seriously injured.
Mayday: Air Disaster video’s simulation of the incident puts viewers inside the cockpit and the cabin with the terrified pilots, passengers, and flight attendants.
6 Air France Flight 358
An online CBC article sums up the story of Air France Flight 358’s Airbus A340-313’s August 2, 2005, crash landing, stating that the airplane “ended up skidding off the runway.” Canada’s Federal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre says the fact that no one was injured or killed in the incident was a “miracle.” The violence of the crash landing is indicated by the fact that, although no deaths occurred, “12 people suffered serious injuries,” and some passengers believed that they would die.
A Disaster Breakdown video, offering further details concerning the flight from Paris to Toronto, explains how inclement weather and a number of pilot errors were responsible for the crash-landing, during which the airplane overshot the runway by 300 meters. The video also mentions the flight attendants’ decision not to open two of the airplane’s doors due to the fire hazard as an aggravating factor.
5 Qantas Flight 72
As the 7NEWS Spotlight video concerning the November 7, 2008, Qantas Flight 72 indicates, the airliner was on its way from Singapore to Perth when Captain Kevin Sullivan, a former Top Gun pilot in the U.S. Navy, was alerted that the autopilot had disconnected. This alarm was followed by contradictory stall and overspeed warnings. Then, the airliner began to pitch “violently down.” As Sullivan put it, the aircraft’s “automation… was trying to kill us.”
As the airplane plummeted toward the Indian Ocean, passengers and flight attendant Fuzzy Maiava, who were not strapped into their seats, were thrown against the ceiling. Two were rendered unconscious. All were pinned in place. Sullivan released his control stick, and the plane righted itself, causing Fuzzy and the unrestrained passengers to fall from the ceiling.
The primary flight computer, the automatic brake, the auto-trim function, and the third trim had also failed. Over 100 passengers were injured, some severely. Sullivan decided to land at nearby Learmonth, a Royal Australian Air Force base. Passengers were ordered to fasten their seat belts, but Caroline Southcott had trouble doing so. She was in agony, having broken her back and an ankle, the latter so severely that her foot faced backward. She would require extensive surgery.
Despite his concern that the automated system could again wrest control of the aircraft, Sullivan successfully landed the airplane. Walking through the cabin, he witnessed the injuries, terror, and trauma that his passengers had suffered and was so affected that he quit piloting.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that “incorrect data” caused the in-flight emergency but could not say how or why.
4 Asiana Airlines Flight 214
On July 6, 2013, with 292 passengers on board, Asiana Flight 214 was completing its overnight journey from Seoul to San Francisco when the pilots were alerted that the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was dangerously low. The pilot-in-training, Lee Kang-koo, and his trainer, the pilot-in-command Lee Jeong-min, tried to ascend, but it was too late. Short of the runway, the plane struck the ground, and its tail was ripped off.
The front part of the aircraft skimmed along the runway before coming to an abrupt halt. Were fire to spread from the burning engine to the fuel tanks, the airplane could explode. There was no slide, but evacuating passengers were able to climb down the fuselage. Firefighters fought the blaze and tended to injured passengers.
Although there were contributing factors, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that there were several probable causes of the accident, two crucial ones of which were the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during the visual approach and their delay in executing a go-around after becoming aware that the airplane was below acceptable glide path and airspeed tolerances. Of the 310 people aboard the aircraft, 3 died, and 187 were injured, 49 seriously.
9 Flying Tiger 923
Engine number three of the Flying Tiger, a 73-ton Lockheed 1049H Super Constellation with 76 passengers on board, was on fire, spitting flames and bits of molten metal as an alarm bell clanged. Captain John Murray ordered the discharge of an extinguisher. The September 23, 1962, crisis had been averted—or so the passengers and crew had thought.
In fact, as Eric Lindner writes, flight engineer Garrett “had forgotten to close the no. 3 engine firewall.” This oversight “triggered a chain reaction” of equipment failures, and the airplane lost “two of its four engines.” Nearly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) from land, the Flying Tiger had no alternative but to ditch into the Atlantic Ocean. Impact “would feel like crashing onto a cement runway,” a Popular Mechanics article observed.
It didn’t help when rain started, obscuring visibility, especially since Murray would have to ditch between waves; otherwise, the airplane’s wings could snap off, or the aircraft itself might break apart and sink when it struck the water at 120 mph (193 km/h).
Murray was up to the task, though, and all aboard survived the impact and evacuated. Unfortunately, only 48 lived through the seven hours they spent in the bitter-cold waters; the other 28 drowned. An Aviation Horrors video captured the passengers’ and crew’s harrowing ordeal.
2 U.S. Bangla Flight 211
According to the final report concerning the March 12, 2018, accident involving U.S. Bangla Flight 211’s Bombardier Q400 aircraft, the aircraft’s pilot, Abid Sultan, probably experienced “disorientation and a complete loss of situational awareness.” As a result of the crash-landing, all 4 crew members and 45 out of the 67 passengers aboard the aircraft were killed, and “more… succumbed to injury later in hospital during the course of treatment.”
The report also found other contributing factors, including dangerous attempts to “align the aircraft with the runway… at very close proximity and very low altitude,” without any prior attempt to execute a “go around,” even though such a maneuver appeared to be possible until the last instant before touchdown on the runway.
A Smithsonian Channel video indicates that, near the conclusion of the 90-minute flight from Dhaka to Nepal, the airplane flew past the Kathmandu Airport toward the mountains. The control tower’s supervisor redirected the errant plane, instructing the pilot to loop back around and land on the runway for southbound traffic. The turn was executed, but the aircraft was to the right of the runway.
During several attempts to correct the aircraft’s approach, Sultan first aligned the airplane with the taxiway before lining up with the control tower instead of the runway. The plane missed the tower but crashed into a field 1,443 feet (440 meters) away from the runway, bursting into flames.
1 United Airlines Flight 232
The explosion of the DC-10 aircraft in service to the July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232, as it headed from Denver to Chicago, severed the airplane’s hydraulic lines, disabling flight controls. Captain Alfred C. Haynes, First Officer William Records, and Second Officer Dudley Dvorak eventually stabilized the aircraft by “adjusting the thrust” of the one working engine on each wing. An off-duty flight instructor among the 284 other passengers and the 11 crew members on board joined them in the cockpit to operate the throttles.
They’d attempt to land at Sioux City, Iowa. As the Des Moines Register’s understatement declares, “It was not a happy landing.” The flight crew was unable to reduce speed, and the aircraft’s right wing, clipping the runway, caused a fuel spill. The airplane broke into four pieces, the main part of the burning wreckage sliding into a cornfield.
One hundred and twelve passengers died. Two local hospitals, assisted by the Iowa National Guard, whose soldiers helped search for and rescue the injured and perform triage, treated the crash-landing’s 184 survivors.