19 of the Scariest Moments Pilots Have Experienced on the Job
Flying is still considered the safest mode of transportation, but these pilots have stories that may make you reconsider that belief.
“I almost took off with a faulty engine”
Commercial pilot here. During training, I was flying a Piper cub (single-engine). We had just taxied to the active runway and were doing our run-up (pre-takeoff check). Finished the run-up, everything was functioning normally, all gauges on the green. ATC advised us to hold short of the runway due to approaching traffic. Just as the approaching traffic landed and we were about to get cleared for takeoff, our engine dies without warning. Me and my instructor look at each other thinking, What the heck? Look at the gauges. All gauges were still on the green, fuel pump on, mixture rich. So weird… Needless to say, we aborted the flight. If we had that engine failure a couple minutes later, we would have been airborne with too much altitude to land on any remaining runway and not enough altitude to circle around. —Reddit user ProudPilot. Check out some of the craziest-ever reasons for flight delays.
“We almost collided right after takeoff”
ATC gave my plane clearance to take off on runway 35 (north) at airport GFK while simultaneously allowing for a similar aircraft to depart from runway 26 (west). These runways cross one another. We almost collided at 500 AGL (above ground level). The other aircraft was so close I could make out the expression on the pilot’s face. —Reddit user Laaksonen
“I flew through volcanic ash”
Military pilot here. I was on a flight leaving Sigonella, Italy. Mount Etna had been erupting for the past four hours, but ATC cleared the southern sector to be free of volcanic ash. We flew directly into an ash cloud at 2000 feet remaining in the volcanic ash cloud for over 20 minutes. We had no luck climbing and punching out of the ash cloud, so we ended up doing an emergency descent to 1000 feet to get out of clouds. We started experiencing engine malfunctions and had to secure two out of our four engines. Unfortunately in Europe, ATC is not responsible for obstacle clearance, and we received a vector that would have flown us straight into a mountain. We caught the error and navigated back to the field to conduct a 2-engine emergency landing without incident. I literally expected every engine to cut out. I didn’t expect to make it out of that volcanic ash cloud alive. Look up what volcanic ash does to jet engines. —Reddit user besmircherz. The computer on this plane malfunctioned, putting 315 in a life-or-death situation.
“A duck flew into the engine”
I hit three ducks on short final [descent]. One went right into the nose gear and stuck, one hit the left prop, and one by the right engine. Could have had a dual flameout, but we had the field made so it wouldn’t have mattered. It just would have been a better story. The lineman took the one that stuck in the nose gear for a free meal. —Reddit user mmmpastaaa. Find out some myths about air travel you need to stop believing.
“I almost hit another plane on the runway”
My father was a captain for Eastern Airlines and told a story about almost being at takeoff speed when another commercial jet taxied across his runway. He was going too fast to abort so he had to pull up early and cleared the other plane by feet (don’t remember the exact amount). His passengers had no idea but the other plane’s passengers saw everything. I don’t know what ended up happening to the other pilot, but my dad got an apology call from him that evening. —Reddit user HarborMaster1
“A dead body started groaning”
I flew a dead body in a body bag by myself at night in a Chieftain (PA31-350). Dead guy groaned and jerked pretty hard about 10 minutes into the flight. Had it strapped down, so I don’t know how much it would have moved if not restrained. I just kinda muttered under my breath and looked over my shoulder for the rest of the 25 minutes flight. Pretty sure it was gasses inside the corpse brought out by the pressure change from ground to 3,000 agl [above ground level]. Freaked me out at the time though. —Reddit user BigZombieKing. It would freak us out, too! Here are some of the craziest things flight attendants have experienced on the job.
“My door opened mid-flight”
I never completed my pilot’s license, but I have a story about my training. I was doing my second solo flight (first one is to do “touch and go’s” without leaving the traffic pattern). In this second solo flight, I was to go out and do “turns about a point” and “figure eights” and other basic VFR maneuvers. I was doing a left turn about a point when my cabin door opened. Thankfully I was strapped in. With all of the air rushing past, it was hard to push the door out far enough to get it to slam back shut, so I had to slow the aircraft down to near stall speed before I could achieve reclosing it. Once it closed, the plane stalled (lost its “lift” quality) and began to basically fall out of the sky. I managed to recover from the stall and regain lift… flew back to the airport and landed without further incident. No, I did not soil my underpants, but I will never forget that flight. —A former Reddit user
“I flew through a flock of birds”
We flew right through a flock of birds on takeoff, about 500 feet above the ground. Everything went fine, we didn’t hit anything, but we could very well have ended up in the same situation as [the movie] Sully. I don’t think anyone in the back noticed anything, but it sure as hell got the adrenaline flowing. —Reddit user 1008oh. Learn more about what happens when a plane encounters birds in midair.
“Lightning struck right in front of the plane”
Coming into Indianapolis a month or so ago, there was some rain on final [descent]. It was showing green on the radar, which isn’t a big deal. Air traffic control called it light to moderate. As we get closer to it, the color changed from green to yellow with a little red. It was too late by this point to turn around it. As we are going through it, I was just about to remark to my captain how this isn’t bad at all when a GIANT bolt of lightning came down maybe 20 feet in front of the plane. The sound was deafening and scared both of us. Somehow it did not hit our plane, but it definitely woke everyone up on the flight. —Reddit user GAU8Avenger
“My engine caught on fire”
Over the years I’ve had many incidents that might seem scary to some, but in reality are events that we train for and prepare for so the outcome is mundane and successful. I do remember when I was a brand new Captain on a Beech 1900 (19 seat turboprop with two pilots and no flight attendant) and was taking off at night. A passenger came up and tapped me on the shoulder (we kept the cockpit door open most of the time) and calmly said, “Sir, are you aware your left engine is on fire?” I had no indications as such so I sent my copilot back to calm down an obvious nervous flyer. My copilot came back about five seconds later with the words, “Dude! Flames!” Right about that time, all the bells and whistles went off and we got busy with the fire/shutdown checklist. Landed uneventfully, swapped planes, and went on our way. —Reddit user FlyingSig. Next, find out some secrets your airplane pilot won’t tell you.