Flying can sometimes be a horrifying experience, especially if you’re the one in charge of flying the plane or taking care of passengers as an attendant. In this article, pilots and flight attendants share the scariest thing that happened to them in-flight.
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
Private pilot going for his CPL and this happened when I was in training for my PPL. I was doing circuits early on in my training with my Instructor who didnt really have much patience but lots of experience. We were practicing circuits and he decided we would do a touch and go but at the last minute we were told by Tower to go around. I decided to pull up without adding power and retracted the flaps up a bit. Needless to say my instructor took control and added power right away and pushed the nose down and very sternly asked me Are you trying to kill me today? Never made that mistake again.
Took off at night, right alternator light comes on right after takeoff. The aircraft instrument lights start flickering. My first officer is flying the airplane. I tell him to continue as normal until we reach a safe altitude to run the checklist.
As we’re climbing through 500′, I see a bright shower of sparks from the right engine. Passengers start gasping and talking. My first officer kind of freezes up. I say, “turn back.” He starts to turn the airplane the opposite direction of what we had briefed in case of an emergency situation.
I say, “I have the controls,” and take over, and turn us on a right downwind. I tell him to tell air traffic control we need to return immediately. I turn the alternator off but the sparks are still flying. The engine is running fine though.
We were only in the air for a couple minutes, but the adrenaline was high for sure. Seeing sparks flying from the front of your engine is never a good thing. I was glad it was just the alternator though because it didn’t cause any power loss.
Turns out one of the mechanics that put the engine back together after an inspection forgot to tighten the alternator wire bundle down completely, resulting in loose wires contacting each other.
I’m not an airline pilot, but I fly small planes as I build my hours to get to that point. Me and a copilot were hired to fly a Cessna from Arizona to Florida. We stopped for fuel in New Mexico and on takeoff we got to only about 100 ft when the plane stopped climbing and started doing the exact opposite of that. We turned and lined up with a different runway but we were still coming down very hard and very fast. The plane hit the runway and then went off the side into the dirt and stopped only 70ft from where it first hit the ground, which isn’t much considering we were going at highway speeds. I broke 8 bones in my body including 3 vertebrae and was in the hospital for about 3 months as well. But despite this I still want to get back in the plane and fly again though.
Couple years back I was flying an instrument approach down to Melbourne, Florida. I forget the name of the approach exactly but we were supposed to circle to 09R. Coming down ATC hits us up about a storm cell thats making its way to the field and asks if we still want to continue the approach. Anyone familiar with Florida in the summer knows these types of storms aren’t exactly rare. We figure we can beat it in (we could see it painted on our radar) so we continue. About 600ft above minimums it has become VERY clear that its moving faster than both we and ATC thought. Not 5 seconds later ATC hits us up again to tell us just this and mentions the winds have flipped. We ask if we can just circle to 27L instead which he approves. We get in the thick of it and barely broke out of the clouds above minimums before touching down into a wall of rain after battling some of the craziest winds I have flown in to date. Palms were definitely sweaty after that one.
I’m just a private pilot getting my hours to be a commercial pilot, but the scariest would be an engine failure at 1200 feet, after failing to restart the engine we declared an emergency. Luckily I was with my instructor so in that case he handles controls and I do communications and checklists.
The scariest experience I’ve had while flying would have to be when one of my instructors ordered a go around maybe five feet above the runway for practice. I took out the flaps first, and then put in power. Let’s just say I’m surprised that the thing didn’t slam into the ground!
Flight attendant here. Honestly, our planes are extremely well maintained and our pilots and air traffic controllers very well trained so the odds of something horrible happening in regards to crashing or malfunctioning are very slim. The worst thing that has every happened to me was being punched in the face by a very horrible four year old girl. That was genuinely pretty scary because I had never felt compelled to punch a child in the face before, really had to restrain myself that day.
And walking in to the bathroom and finding massive piles of poop in the toilet. I fly on prop planes and our flights are never over two hours, please just poo beforehand, I beg of you!
I was flying with a student on a nice, clear day. We were doing ground-reference maneuvers (flying fairly close to the ground and snaking over roads, etc). I was pretty pleased with my student’s execution of the maneuver when out of the coroner of my eye I saw movement above the tree-line. On second glance it turned out to be a stunt plane flying directly into our path. I punched the throttle, pulled the yoke back and climbed out of there like a homesick angel. I checked the Multi-function display (Moving map), and there was no indication of another airplane with his transponder on, there were no radio calls to the area. Fine, I thought, he doesn’t have to do any of those, despite the fact that they are the smart thing to do. And then this jerk starts shadowing us really really closely. I couldn’t descend to redo the maneuver for fear of getting too close to this hotdog.
I was training for my private license and had to do what I believe was ten stop-and-go’s (this was nearly ten years ago) at Port Columbus. All was well and going nicely until on one of the stops, the wind shifted a little right as I was floating before touchdown. Lifted one of my wings up and I was cruising on one tire and my wingtip had to have been inches away from striking the ground.
Definitely a pee in my pants moment.
I was getting my glider pilot license and one of the pilots in training went on his first solo flight at the end of the day. It was the last flight of the day so the rest of us were watching his approach and we all saw his glider suddenly disappear under the trees of the forest that’s right behind the runway. We were told to go back to the dorms while the people in charge were to investigate the crash. The guy who crashed walked into our dorm a couple of hours later, completely fine. He got really lucky to leave that situation completely unharmed. I’ve heard of cases where people crash into forests and get impaled by branches.
We almost crashed coming into OHare. The copilot was pretty inexperienced and tried to touch down during an insanely fast moving crosswind. He should have circled around again. I was seated in the back of the plane (CRJ900). Both passengers next to me had a death grip on my hand or knee. Was covered in bruises. Ive never seen a pilot so pissed off. He was cussing out the copilot the whole way to the hotel.
On one of my earlier solo flights during my training, I lost a magneto only a few moments after rotation. I was already too far along the runway to abort the takeoff, so I kept the power in and managed to climb up to pattern altitude. I informed the tower and they gave me clearance for a short final, so I flipped her around and got her back on the ground as fast as I could.
Even as I was taxing back to the parking, I could see my instructor vigorously arguing with the head of maintenance – it turned out that the plane had been in the shop the previous day for the exact same issue and the techs had been unable to reproduce the problem so they green-lit it for flight again.
I never found out exactly what the cause was, but the mags showed no sign of issue during runup, or during any of the mechanic’s tests. I’m assuming it was a loose or corroded connection somewhere.
Probably not the scariest story you can imagine, but as a relatively new pilot with only ~30 hours on my log, it sure scared the life out of me.
In flight training on a go around the engine went to full power then dropped back down to nearly idle. There was no longer enough runway to land immediately. Somehow we managed a 180 degree turn and landed in the opposite direction.
As an airline pilot on a smooth day in clear skies at cruise suddenly heard a bang and got bounced so hard I nearly hit my head against the window next to me. No idea what that was. There was no damage to the plane.
Also as an airline pilot a flock of geese coming right at us on short final. I dove the plane down a little bit but there’s only so much you can do with that little warning. Somehow we missed them all.
I was flying at an unmanned airport, just doing some touch and gos. I was really new to flying at the time, and I think it was my third time flying solo. Anyway, the frequency was shared with another port nearby, so we clarify where we’re flying. As I come in for landing, another plane says they’re on the same part as me. I immediately panic and state again where I am, trying to find them by sight. I safely land and take off again without response from them. I’m really rattled, but continue on.
They keep on stating they’re on the same part of the flight pattern as me, and I finally ascertain they’re elsewhere and just being careless with their callouts. scared me quite a bit, though.
I was on my cross country flight as a student pilot, it’s something you have to do to get your license. Leaving Chicago going to Ohio we were flying under storm clouds with some bumpy conditions. This was my show so I was at the controls and my instructor was basically just watching. Little turbulence kicks up. It was expected, no problem, little airplanes actually handle turbulence well. It’s less ‘bumpy’ and more ‘leaf on water’ kind of feeling. Boom, out of nowhere we end up getting shoved and shaken like ice in a cocktail shaker and zipped up right into a storm cloud. This is before I got my instrument flying certification and there is no visibility, I can’t hear anything because my headset cord came unplugged and I am FREAKING OUT. I am proud I didn’t piss myself.
My instructor just put his hand calmly on top of mine, plugged in my headset and said, “Relax, watch the artificial horizon and altimeter, and don’t kill us.” Thanks, Rick. To make a long story short we survived and I got to learn what lightning looks like from inside a cloud.
Airline pilot here, but this happened flight instructing. I agreed to test fly a 70-year-old airplane after its 90-year-old owner had the engine rebuilt. He was a retired car mechanic so I had my suspicions that he had been involved more than would be appropriate in putting it back together. We ran up the engine on the ground. All seemed normal. After take off the airplane wouldn’t climb above 300 ft and we couldn’t get more than 2000 rpm out of the engine- normally 2400. I took the controls and slowly did a 180 back to the runway, landing in the opposite direction of takeoff. Turned out some valve came out of place, pumping hot air into the carb. Spooky because we were right on the edge of living or dying. 50 less rpm and we would have slowly descended into a house or tree.
As a student private pilot on a solo flight- flying over Blackpool, England. The aircraft didn’t feel right, smelled incredibly hot, panel was hot to the touch, temperature gauges up. I think “oh no, I’m on fire.” I call a mayday from about 3500ft about 3 miles from the circuit. Then I put the aircraft into a 2500 glide circuit, shut the engine down and glide it in to RWY 28 to be met by fire crew. Turns out it wasn’t a fire but better to be safe than sorry.
The first solo flight is supposed to be traffic pattern only (in essence, you’re flying boxes around the airport). I take off and do a couple touch and go landings without issue. Coming in for my third touch and go, a formation of aircraft was taxing out onto the threshold. No big deal, I thought. I pull up the gear handle and execute a go around, only the gear does not properly raise and I have unsafe (red) gear indications. I end up having to declare an emergency and I am unable to lower the gear, as the left main wheel is jammed between the up and down position.
Another T-6 comes and forms up with me to check out my gear. He informs me that my landing gear is jammed against the landing gear door. After cycling it multiple times, eventually the gear comes down, but the left main is still red (possibly unsafe) even though it appears down and locked to the other aircraft.
I come in for a straight in and hold pressure off of the left wheel as long as I can while I land the aircraft. Thankfully, the wheel held when it finally touched down and didn’t collapse, which would have sent the plane possibly careening out of control (possibly forcing me to eject). Since I had declared an emergency, the fire trucks all rolled out to the runway to meet me.
I’m a Naval Aviatior and my scary story happened earlier this year. It was my second night landing on the boat in over 6 months, so I was a bit rusty. The ship was in bad weather and rough seas. I had a decent amount of night traps before this, but I didn’t have a lot of pitching deck experience. We were the first plane to come down from the marshall stack to land on the boat. At about 4 miles, we pick up the ACLS needles (ILS for the ship) and we are still in the weather. Normally, at 3/4 mile behind the ship, approach control hands you over to paddles (the guys standing on the back of the ship to help talk you down if you need it) and you would take over visually to trap. On this night, the weather was particularly bad and we see nothing, so we call “clara ship” (meaning we can’t even see the ship). Then we hear paddles tell us to turn our taxi light on, which means they couldn’t see us either. We turn it on and hear “paddles contact” (they can see us but we still can’t see the ship). Finally we break out of the weather and about 5 to 7 seconds later, we trap on the ship. The rain was so bad that people on the ship said that we caused a wave of water to roll over the landing area when we trapped.
Private pilot here.
Scariest moment was one take off when I lost my engine. (I only have one). It was a rainy night, I just had flown to get some dinner at portillos. I was by myself, having just got my license. I took off normally, and at about 200 Fett above the ground I was still over the runway. I immediately lost all power. I was too low to turn around and land on the 10000 feet of runway behind me. I had to land straight ahead. It was also then I remembered that some jackass had put a rock quarry off the end of the runway. I settled the plane down on the runway watching the lights at the end get closer and closer. The plane squeched to a halt, one tiny fence and about 20 feet to falling into a deep rock quarry.
The second most scariest moment I had was on a clear weather, bright sunny day. I was taking my brother out for a flight, it was his first time in a small plane. All off a sudden every single piece of electronic equipment failed while I was in busy airspace. Every instrument, radio, and light failed on the plane. And to top it all off, my iPad shut down too. (I have backup instrumentation that the iPad can provide). I turned the plane around and watched for the control tower to shine a big ass light that would clear me to land. (It’s one giant light gun that can flash green). Got the light, and while I was taking off the runway all the electronics came back at once. Will never figure that out.
Former flight attendant here, I’ve had a few hairy incidents but the one that stands out for me was a time we were cleared for take off out of SFO, I was flying B in back and just as we started down the runway the engines cut off and suddenly breaking hard and a quick turn off on to a taxiway. As they made the turn I look out the window next to me (no I wasn’t in my proper seating position) I look down the runway trying to figure out what’s wrong and see a rather large 747 cross on one of the runways ahead of us.
We sat there stopped for a little while and our captain calls back asking if we’re OK. We eventually made our way back around and took off. When we deplaned later I asked the pilots what happened and they told us we were wrongly cleared for take off and due to some work being done next to the taxiway there was some fencing and construction vehicles that obscured part of their view to the right and as they cleared the fencing the FO saw the approaching 747 coming in on one of the crossing runways and initiated an abort and diverted down an exit on to an empty taxi way. They had some choice words for ATC and were obviously very upset considering they said nobody in ATC called for any kind of abort or seemed aware what had just transpired. That was my worst in my opinion. Of course skidding on ice landing in DEN in winter and feeling a 737 fishtail makes you feel uneasy a bit.
Just a GA pilot but here’s what I’ve got.
I have a couple hundred hours so I’m not a total buffoon. And I’m based out of a small airport in MD where the end of the runways is literally next to a major highway.
So one time I was taking my friends up with me, one of them has a horrible fear of flying, but I convinced her it’s fine. Just a day trip to the beach.
Everything was looking good, little gusty, clear skies -the works.
Anyways, so in a 172SP loaded, I’d rotate around 60-65, just in case. About 25ft off the ground, we’re hit with an intermittent wind shear, a big one.
For those wondering, a wind shear is an unexpected (basically) mega gust of wind.
This shear caused my nose skyrocket upwards, air speed was dropping to 40, stall horns blaring, and we were over the highway. I take the full force of body and push the yoke as hard as I can inward to try and put the nose down. Luckily, we recovered with about 75ft of clearance before plowing into oncoming car traffic.
My friend still brings it up and although I’m going off to the AF to become a pilot, she’s still hesitant to fly again, even though it was a freak accident.
Im still a student pilot working towards my private pilots license. One of the requirements towards your PPL is a cross country solo. I made mine from KAPA to KPUB to KLHX.
Being in Colorado, we can get bad winds and updraft over the plains, causing turbulence. My first leg to Pueblo was fine (except making myself look like a jerk on frequency) and the leg to La Junta was ok. I decide to stop there to use the bathroom and stretch. With my luck, the starter on the 172 I was renting failed when trying to start the engine. After waiting for the mechanic to fly down and fix it I was on my way about four hours later. The wind at the airport was barley below the minimum so I was allowed to take off in. I decided to fly myself back. That flight was the longest, most turbulent flight I will probably ever have. I was hitting my head on the roof of the plane, and getting really sick. I was outside the range of flight following so I could do nearly nothing. Getting back to my home airport, I have never been that happy to land.