TOP 5 Emergency Landings


During the years aviation has made a significant progress in forecasting and controlling natural hazards as well as developing state-of-the-art aircraft. Nevertheless, even the most advanced technologies or best of the best pilots cannot provide a 100 % guarantee that the flight will end successfully. Baltic Aviation Academy has selected the TOP 5 most impressive emergency landings in the entire aviation history to share with you today.

5. DHL Airbus A300-B4 after missile attack

In 2003 an Airbus A300 cargo aircraft operated by DHL was hit by a surface-to-air missile while climbing through 8000 feet shortly after its departure from Baghdad. The missile struck the wing and penetrated the number 1 fuel tank. Fuel ignited, burning away a large portion of the wing. To make things worse, the plane had lost all hydraulics and the pilots were forced to attempt a landing back at the Baghdad Airport.

After a missed approach they had to circle the field until they finally landed heavily on runway 33L, 16 minutes later. The three-man crew made an injury-free landing of the crippled aircraft, using differential engine thrust as the only pilot input. The Airbus veered off the left side of the runway, travelled about 600 metres through soft sand, struck a razor wire fence and came to rest on a downslope. When the A300 had stopped and the crew evacuated the cockpit, they began to run from the scene, but crash crews stopped them. They were in the middle of an uncleared minefield.


4. Pan American Flight 6

On October 16, 1956, a four-engine Pan Am’s Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was flying from Honolulu to San Francisco. After climbing to an altitude of 21,000 ft, the number 1 engine began to overspeed. The captain then decided to cut off the oil supply to the engine. However, the propeller continued to windmill in the air stream, causing excessive parasite drag, which significantly increased fuel consumption. The crew calculated that they no longer had sufficient fuel remaining to reach San Francisco, so they decided to ditch the plane in the ocean. One wing impacted a swell, causing the plane to rotate, inflicting damage to the nose section and breaking off the tail. Nevertheless, all 31 on board survived the ditching.

3. US Airways A320 landing into Hudson River

On January 15, 2009, with both engines out, a cool-headed US Airways pilot manoeuvred his crowded Airbus A320 jetliner over New York City and ditched it in the frigid Hudson River. All 155 on board were pulled to safety as the plane slowly sank. The plane collided with a flock of geese and some had been sucked into one of the plane’s engines. The pilot was trying to turn back to the airport but apparently decided that he could not keep the plane airborne long enough and opted to set the plane down into the river. The aircraft is not submerged, and local television pictures show flight crew evacuating the plane via life rafts that are being steered to nearby ferries, which have surrounded the plane. The entire crew of Flight 1549 was later awarded the Master’s Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators and the aircraft captain Sullenberger has deservedly become a celebrity.


2. Gimli Glider
The crew of Air Canada Flight 143 (nickname Gimli Glider) experienced a notable aviation incident in 1983, when their Boeing 767-233 jet ran out of fuel at an altitude of 41,000 feet about halfway through its flight to Edmonton. Without power except from a ram-air turbine (RAT) emergency hydraulic unit, the 767’s glass-cockpit instrument panel was totally dark, with only a few small backup gauges to provide basic speed, altitude and heading information. And as the airplane slowed to approach speed, the RAT put out less power and the hydraulically operated controls became harder to move. However the Aircraft was landed safely on Gimli Industrial Park Airport. The investigation later revealed failure when the fuel loading had been miscalculated due to a misunderstanding of the recently adopted metric system, which had replaced the imperial system.



United Airlines Flight 232 was a scheduled flight from Denver to Chicago. On July 19, 1989, McDonnell Douglas DC-10 plane suffered catastrophic failure of its tail-mounted engine, which led to the loss of all flight controls.

The engine failed due to crack on the fan disk, which was not detected during maintenance. As a result, shrapnel penetrated the hydraulic lines of all three independent hydraulic systems on board the aircraft, which rapidly lost their hydraulic fluid. The flight crew lost their ability to operate almost all of the flight controls. However the crew still had two other operating engines, although their control was disordered. By independently utilizing each engine, the crew managed to perform some steering adjustments and by using both engines they were able to roughly adjust altitude. The pilots finally guided crippled DC-10 to one of the runways. They were unable to slow down for landing without control of flaps and slats, therefore the crew was forced to land the aircraft at a very high airspeed as well as extremely high rate of descent, what caused hard touchdown. The aircraft broke apart, rolled over and caught fire.

111 people died in this accident, but 185 survived due to relatively controlled manner of the crash and the early notification of emergency services. Despite the deaths, this accident is considered as a great example of successful work of the crew due to the manner in which they handled the emergency considering that the airplane was landed without conventional control.

After the accident, DC-10s were modified with hydraulic fuses to prevent catastrophic loss of hydraulic fluid. The captain, Alfred C. Haynes, and the other crew members have inspired movies, novels and songs.


Do you know some other great examples of emergency landings? Feel free to share your stories by sending them to [email protected]

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