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During a trip to Thailand back in 2009, I flew from Koh Samui Airport (USM) in the Gulf of Thailand to Krabi Airport (KBV) on the Andaman Coast. It was a quick, smooth 45-minute ride across the country’s flamingo-like neck, but I’ll never forget that landing.
Our Bangkok Airways plane caught some wind on the descent and hit the runway at an uneven angle. The plane bounced — HARD — and the entire cabin seemed to utter a collective gasp when we veered for what seemed like a full minute. Tray tables rattled against their clips. Tired squealed. People screamed. In reality, it probably only lasted a few seconds and not nearly as dramatic as the scene that’s etched into my memory. In the end, I continued my Southeast Asian beach vacation unscathed.
Rough landings are pretty rare, but there have been some real doozies over the decades. Here are nine of the most blood-chilling, armrest-gripping, vodka-tonic-on-the-floor landings in history that make my Bangkok Airways episode seem like nothing more than mild turbulence.
1. Monarch Airlines vs. Wind Gusts at MAN
Rough storms had British low-cost carrier Monarch Airlines’ aircraft wobbling on its descent into Manchester International Airport (MAN). While the A321 appears to level out as it makes its final approach, a strong gust of wind pushes it off course just a few feet from the runway. As you can see in the video below, the pilot abruptly aborts the landing, pulling back up into the air at the last minute.
2. JetBlue’s Broken Nose Gear Landing at LAX
Upon its initial descent into LAX, this JetBlue flight’s pilots realized the front landing gear was stuck in a perpendicular position instead of being parallel to the runway. The plane circled Los Angeles for hours — its own kind of abject horror — before attempting to land on its crooked wheels as emergency crews watched from below. In the end, the landing was successful, despite the smoke and sparks created by the broken nose gear.
3. Iran Air’s “Kiss” Landing at Tehran-IKA
From broken nose gear to no nose gear, this Iran Air flight was forced to make a “kiss” landing at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) after several unsuccessful attempts. The plane hits the runway on its back wheels nice and even and then, as it decelerates, the nose begins to tip forward until it eventually touches the tarmac. On the video it looks pretty smooth, but anyone who’s ever been on a plane knows you feel every ounce of velocity as you hit that runway. Hopefully everyone’s carry-ons were safely stowed!
4. Lufthansa vs. Crosswinds at HAM
Crosswinds are no pilot’s friend. Check out how this Lufthansa A320 rocks back and forth like a pendulum after touching down at a severely skewed angle at Hamburg International Airport (HAM). The left wing grinds against the runway, forcing the pilots to pull up and land on a whole different runway.
5. Swissair’s Aborted Landing — From Inside the Plane
A few aborted landings have made this list, but this video from a rough Swissair descent at London-Heathrow (LHR) last February gives us the POV from inside the plane during one. The touch-down happens at 2:28 and you can see and hear how violent it is. Pilots were forced to pull right back into the stormy sky and re-circle for a second — and eventually successful — attempt.
6. Emirates’ Crash Landing in Dubai
This crash landing over the summer in Dubai was so big it made international headlines. Passengers on the 777-300 claim the landing gear never engaged, sending the plane skidding across the runway at Dubai International Airport (DXB), where an engine promptly caught fire. This video is tough to watch; you can hear the passengers’ panic as smoke fills the cabin and, incredibly, see many of them ignoring the rules to leave their luggage behind. Fortunately though, everyone onboard escaped the plane safely.
7. United’s Epic 27,000-foot Nosedive
“Nosedive” is never a word you want to hear uttered in the same sentence as “landing,” but that’s how passengers described a 2015 United flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Hartford (BDL). When a passenger became strangely ill 40 minutes into the flight, the pilot deduced it was due to a problem with cabin pressure and enacted an emergency landing, dropping 27,000 feet in eight minutes.
8. Makani Kai Air Meets the Pacific Ocean
Raise your hand if you’ve been there: The flight attendants are giving their safety drill about what to do in the event of a water landing and you think to yourself, what are the chances of that ever happening to me?
Seven passengers aboard a flight on Makani Kai Air, a small airline that operates charter and commuter flights between the Hawaiian islands, found this out when their plane lost power mid-flight and the pilot made a water landing off Molokai’s northern shore. When the Cessna Grand Caravan hit the sea, water began streaming into the cabin within minutes. The passengers were able to evacuate, stayed surprisingly calm, and clung to whatever flotsam they could find while they waited for help. All passengers and crew were rescued safely, except for one, Loretta Fundy, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health — the same official who released President Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate in the wake of the birther phenomenon, fueling loony conspiracy theories about her death and this crash.
9. Alitalia Attempts to Land at LCY During Storm Imogen
In another case of crosswinds caused by storms, this Alitalia flight from Milan wobbles and bounces along the runway at London City Airport (LCY) before the pilots eventually abort the landing. The video was filmed last February during Storm Imogen, when Britain was reporting 100-mile-per-hour winds and 63-foot storm surge.
Have you had a terrifying landing experience? Tell us about it, below.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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