What To Actually Do If All Plane Engines Fail At The Same Time – To say you’re in a good mood would be an understatement. Your plane is up in the air, the keep your seat belt fastened sign is off, you’ve just started to watch a movie and soon you’ll get your hands on that gin and tonic you deserve.
This time tomorrow you’ll be lying back on a beach in South East Asia, sipping on an ice cold coconut juice, your work woes a distant memory. But that vision is soon cut short when something strange happens. The engines on the plane have just stopped. You are thousands of feet above the ground and you have no power.
Does this mean you’re a dead man? Is the date with a pristine beach off? The good news is this doesn’t happen often, but the bad news is it does happen sometimes. According to the Federal Aviation Association and the National Transportation Safety Board there are about 150 to 200 accidents in planes every year that are caused by the loss of power.
This isn’t just big passenger jets, and is usually small planes losing power. Something like one quarter of those accidents end with fatalities, but as we said, this includes all planes and not just passenger jets. When we are talking about turbine engines this hardly ever happens, but again, it does happen.
According to the FAA the engine failure rate is one in 375,000 flight hours of flying time. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be on the plane whose engines fail, but you never know, it could be your unlucky day. So, why would this happen in the first place? Well, there are many reasons why you might get the shock of your life as you are half way through that G&T.
It would usually be just mechanical failure, that’s the main reason this happens. But there are other reasons, such as oil leaks, fuel contamination, and external things like bird strikes, volcanic ash getting in the turbines or even the turbines getting too iced. In the world of flying and engine failures we talk about “contained” and “uncontained” failures.
Contained is when the engine kind of blows up on you, but all the broken pieces stay within the engine casing. An uncontained failure is when broken pieces explode out of the casing. As one person on an aviation website put it, when it’s contained you have a problem,and when it’s uncontained you have a huge problem.
He used stronger language than that, but you get the picture. When things start flying around the cabin windows can get smashed, and when that happens people can get sucked out. This has happened, and we’ll get around to that later. So, what happens if the engines fail? Well, it’s something not to be taken lightly, that’s for sure.
Ask the 124 people who were on the Baikal Airlines Flight 130 in 1994. Well, you can’t ask them because they are all dead after having hit the ground. But we are not saying you should give up on that juice just yet, because if you look at instances when engines have failed on passenger jets there have been some good outcomes.
The people on board those planes likely aged 10 years once they knew they had no power,but they at least lived to tell the tale. Let’s now give you a real-life story of when this happened. In 2001, 293 passengers and 13 crew where in the air above the Atlantic Ocean on their way to sunny Lisbon. These folks set off from Toronto aboard Air Trans at Flight 236 and were already full on the in-flight meal and dreaming of Portugal.
Then the captain, a Mr. Robert Piche, declared an emergency. The plane had lost one of its engines, and by that we mean power, not that it just disappeared into thin air. If that wasn’t bad enough, the other went 10 minutes later. The captain informed Air Traffic Control that he had a major problem, and asked where would the nearest place be where he could land that plane.
He then glided the jet for a total of 75 miles and landed it at an air force base. This took some amount of skill as the crew had to circle around in order to lose some altitude. Apparently the landing was a bit bumpy, too, but none of the passengers and crew were hurt. We are told this was the furthest a passenger jet airliner had glided in the history of aviation.
How can such a huge chunk glide you might ask? Surely it’s too heavy for that you might be thinking. Well, this is what pilot and author Patrick Smith has to say about that. He told the British media, “While it may surprise you, it’s not the least bit uncommon for jets to descend at what a pilot calls ‘flight idle’, with the engines run back to a zero-thrust condition.
They’re still operating and powering crucial systems, but providing no push. You’ve been gliding many times without knowing it. It happens on just about every flight. ”What he’s basically saying is that just like when the power of your car stops while going downhill, a plane can just keep going. You’ll keep losing altitude, and all kinds of planes have a different ratios as to how much altitude they will lose over a given distance, but they’ll come down smoothly…most of the time.
That’s why the pilots on the Lisbon-bound flight had to circle around, so that they could bleed off air speed and land safely. That author we just mentioned said he knew of several times this happened and each time no one was hurt. It happened on a British Airways 747 flight on its way to New Zealand in 1982.
The reason this time was volcanic ash getting in the turbines thanks to Mount Galunggung in West Java. The pilots words then were, “I don’t believe it – all four engines have failed. ”He knew that he had a glide ratio of 15/1 and knew that he had to glide for about 23 minutes before he could land. This was his exact announcement to the passengers: “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. ”Lucky for him, and the passengers, the plane’s engines kicked back in and everything was fine. They made an emergency landing in Jakarta and no one was hurt.
It’s not always smooth-going, though. In 2018 Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 was on its way from New York to Dallas when it experienced engine failure. But this time the failure was uncontained and bits of the engine damaged the fuselage. A cabin window was smashed and this led to rapid depressurization.
You’ve all seen the movie when someone gets sucked through a window in a plane, and that’s what happened, except it seems the person didn’t get totally sucked out, just partially. This woman, in row 14, had to be pulled back in by the cabin crew, but unfortunately she later died from her injuries.
The plane landed and Donald Trump later thanked the crew for their bravery in a situation that could have been much worse. The airline gave $5,000 and a $1,000 voucher to every passenger, although at least one person sued the airline saying she now suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. No kidding, that must have been a very scary experience.
And you can find a number of those uncontained engine failures when the fuselage was damaged. Most of the time no one dies, but we found other instances when people were sucked through the window and it killed them. You hit that hole with some force. On one flight between Miami and San Francisco in 1973 a window was blown after engine fragment shit it.
The guy that was sucked through the hole actually had his seat belt on, but that didn’t even keep him in. The report later said, “Efforts to pull the passenger back into the airplane by another passenger were unsuccessful, and the occupant of seat 17H was forced entirely through the cabin window. ”This is why there is quite the difference between a contained failure and an uncontained failure.
On that particular flight of 115 passengers 24 suffered injuries, mostly related to smoke inhalation, ear problems, and just cuts and bruises. So if this happens to you should you really be concerned about not getting to that beach? Well, it seems your trip will statistically likely go ahead, even though you’ll have to deal with a bit of stress.
One woman going to Singapore from Australia in 2010 said this is what she saw when the engine failed on her plane, “There were flames – yellow flames came out, and debris came off. You could see black things shooting through the smoke, like bits of debris. ”It’s not really something you want to see when you’re going on vacation and it likely makes the in-flight movie a bit less interesting.
But all 459 people on that flight were uninjured after the plane made an emergency landing. This was also the world’s largest jet airliner at the time, so if that thing can glide down safely you’d think your plane can. In fact, there are 25 such engine failures on passenger jets every year, which roughly translates to one failure every million flights.
If it happened to you, you could later tell everyone that you are one in a million. Your chances of survival are very good, but you never know, you might be the dammed statistic. One of the worst cases of engine failure was United Air Lines DC-10 which had to make an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, after an uncontained failure.
111 died that day, but 185 people survived. Probably the most famous of engine failures ever was a case of geese getting in the turbines. This of course was US Airways Flight 1549. On this occasion the pilot glided the plane down, but famously landed it in the Hudson river. All 155 people on that flight survived.
This time, though, there were five pretty serious injuries and 78 people suffered minor injuries. We now know volcanic ash can cause a major problem and so too can pesky birds. But surely birds don’t cause that many engine failures? Well, it does happen. Ask anyone who was aboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 777 in 2017.
It had to make an emergency landing after just one bird got stuck in the engine. It landed safely in Tokyo and all 233 passengers and 15 crew were ok. But don’t worry, the British Airline Pilots Association has said while bird strikes do happen from time to time they are very rarely a problem, except of course if you are the bird.
The bird doesn’t come out well at all. You just better hope you hit a small bird, because they don’t cause much damage. Big birds, well, they are a different matter. One pilot said this about big birds “Hitting large birds such as Canada geese – can and have caused serious accidents. ”The worst bird strike in history happened on Eastern Air Lines Flight 375 flying to Boston in 1960.
It hit a flock of starlings that damaged all four engines. 60 people ended up in the grave thanks to those starlings. So, in conclusion, there is a small chance your plane’s engines can fail but you’ll likely get down safe. If it happens it might not be an engine malfunction, but could be a stray bird or volcanic ash.
What you really don’t want to happen is a bit of engine exploding through the fuselage,and you certainly don’t want to be the person sitting next to the blown-out window because at best you are going to get a bit of a sore head. But we don’t want to worry you, and we think if your plane’s engines do fail you can feel pretty sure that with some delay you’ll still get to that beach in Asia and can avail yourself of the fresh coconuts.
How do you think you’d feel if you were on a plane and the engines failed? Would you hold it together? Have you ever been on a plane when this has happened? Tell us in the comments.