– [Narrator] The captain pulls up the nose and tries to climb. (engine screeching) (people screaming) (dramatic music) – [Pilot] Duck! (air whooshing) – [Narrator] Captain Kevin Stables is preparing to pilot Emery Worldwide flight 17. His first officer is George Land. They’re hauling freight across the country aboard a 30-year-old DC-8 cargo plane.
– Hi, there, is that the load plan? – [John] Just before they’re finished up loading the last couple of containers they would give us a list of all the freight containers and how much it weighed and what position on the airplane it was. (suspenseful music) – There you go, boss. Then we’d take that information and we would calculate the weight and balance on the airplane and make sure that it was all correct. (plane engine revving) – [Kevin] Air speed’s alive.
– [George] Alive here.
(air whooshing) – 80 knots. – 80 knots. Elevator checks. – [Narrator] Just another routine takeoff – [Kevin] V1.
(suspenseful music) Rotate. – [Narrator] But as the nose wheel leaves the ground the DC-8 pitches upward much more steeply than it should. – Watch the tail. (air whooshing) – [Greg] They recognize that they have an issue during the course of the airplane actually starting to rotate as it lifts off the runway. – V two.
Positive rate. – [Narrator] The sudden takeoff is quickly followed by an uncommanded left bank. – I got it. – You got it? – Yep.
– [Narrator] This is anything but routine. – We’re going back. – What the hell? – The center of gravity’s way out of limits. – [Narrator] They need to return to the airport as quickly as possible.
– [Kevin] Emery 17 emergency – Emery 17, say again? – [Greg] When a pilot declares an emergency, that really cues an air traffic controller to know that this isn’t just an abnormal situation. This is a critical situation. (beeping) (suspenseful music) (men speaking indistinctly) – [Narrator] The ground proximity warning begins to sound. – [George] We’re sinking.
We’re going down, guys.
– [Kevin] All right, all right. (suspenseful music) – Okay, we’re going back up. – [Narrator] The DC-8 starts climbing again. – Roll out, roll out.
– [Narrator] But the pilots are still struggling for control. (pilot grunts) – Emery 17, extreme balance problem. – Emery 17, Roger. – The airplane started to go into these big perturbations, dive, and then climb, dive, and then climb. (grunting) – [Narrator] They push their control columns all the way forward in a desperate effort to level them up.
– Power. – More? – [Kevin] Yeah. – [Narrator] Captain Staples and his crew have managed to get the crippled plane with inside of the runway. – [John] It was working very well.
He made it almost all the way around to the backside of the airport. – [Greg] They knew if they can get back to the airport there was gonna be crash fire rescue that would’ve been able then to help them. – [Narrator] They’ve now got less than a mile to go. – They’re still trying to look and to figure out what needs to be done next, but they know that sooner or later they got to get on the ground. (plane whooshes) – [Narrator] China Airlines flight 120 is on final approach for landing.
They’re now less than a minute from the runway.
– [Controller] T 20, 10. (plane whooshes) – [Narrator] It’s a textbook lending. All that’s left for the China Airlines pilots is to park the plane. – Engine start levers.
– Engine start levers, cutoff. – [Narrator] With the engines off, they can finally relax. (warning beeps) – Hey, what is this? – What’s happening? – [Narrator] Just when they thought they were safely parked.
– [Controller] Cockpit ground. Number two, engine fire. – [Narrator] A radio call alerts them to an urgent danger. Their plane is on fire. – [Pilot] Attention crew on station.
Attention crew on station. – [Controller] Dynasty one, two, zero. We are calling a fire truck, remain standby. – We have wheel fire, please. Slap lever.
– [Narrator] The pilots know they need to get their passengers off the plane before flames reached the fuel tanks, but they can’t open the cabin doors yet. – Engine fire warning switches, override. – [Narrator] They must follow an evacuation checklist. Finally, the pilots are ready to open the doors. (beep) – [Pilot] Evacuation required now, required.
(flight attendant grunts) – No pushing, no pushing. Please keep moving forward. – [Narrator] But it will take time for all 157 passengers to make it to the exit.
George Ishizaki is watching the unfolding disaster from inside the airport terminal. – I just happened to have my camcorder with me.
I thought, “Oh my God, what is happening?” – [Narrator] The plane has been burning for close to three minutes. It could explode at any time. (suspenseful music) (flight attendant coughs) – Captain, all passengers are evacuated. You’re the last ones.
– Typically the captain will stay until everybody’s off and he will verify that the airplane is empty. – [Narrator] The pilots have put their passengers’ safety first but now it may be too late for them. – I’m gonna have to climb up to the window. You first. – Sir.
– [Narrator] All 737 cockpits are equipped with an emergency escape rope. It’s designed to help pilots exit to the side window, but it’s no easy maneuver. Then. (explosion) (people screaming) – [Man] Whoa, whoa! (emergency siren wails) – [Narrator] Fire on an airplane can quickly become lethal.
Incredibly on flight 120, all 165 people on board have escaped unharmed. – I’ve never heard of any evacuation where somebody wasn’t hurt. To get this many people off in such a dire circumstance in a very short period of time with no injuries is miraculous.
(dramatic music) – We have a developing story. As you may have heard, there was a civilian Learjet.
– [Narrator] News of a rogue Learjet flying hundreds of miles off course has captivated the nation. (dramatic music) – [Press Secretary] The FAA began tracking aircraft in distress. The President was made aware of this situation this morning in a meeting with his economic advisors. (phone rings) – Benson here. – [Narrator] Experts at the National Transportation Safety Board are notified of the escalating emergency.
– Get me a map. – [Robert] Once the air traffic control system realized the aircraft had gone rogue, so to speak, the next step is to try to figure out why. Can see they’re being hijacked or it’s malfunctioned. The crew has been incapacitated somehow. (plane whooshes) – [Narrator] Controllers scramble F-16 fighters to track down the wayward Learjet.
Jim Tidball has come up with a rough calculation of where the plane will run out of fuel. – My best guess is South Dakota, possibly North Dakota. I can’t say more than that. – [Man] Let’s hope he’s right.
– With any luck they won’t hit anything.
(jet whooshes in air) – [Narrator] In the air, the F-16 pilots have caught up with the rouge plane. The windows of the aircraft provide an ominous clue. – [F-16 Pilot] No movement, and the window’s covered in frost. (suspenseful music) – [Narrator] The Learjet is now a ghost plane. (plane whooshes) – Can we narrow down the crash site anymore?
– [Narrator] With no hope for the passengers and crew, the only focus now is on where the plane will come down. According to calculations, the jet is almost out of fuel. (air whooshes) At 10 minutes past 12, it happens. (screeching) (suspenseful music) The Learjet carrying Payne Stewart and five other people is falling from the sky. – They’re going down, they’re going down.
(dramatic music) – Where’s it gonna hit? – [Narrator] The F-16 attempts to follow, but the plane disappears into the clouds. (suspenseful music) It drops below the radar. (air whooshes) – Setter, I’ve got a crash site.
(air whooshes) (somber music) – [Narrator] Payne Stewart’s Learjet has slammed into a hayfield in South Dakota.
There are no survivors. (helicopter choppers chopping) Amid growing confusion in the cockpit, the pilots of flight 2120 still don’t know that there’s smoke in the cabin. – All they’re dealing with is just all the alarm bells going off to indicate that equipment is failing left, right, and center. – [Narrator] But mechanic Jean-Paul Phillipe realizes they’re in serious trouble. An onboard fire has the potential to consume the entire aircraft in seconds.
(fire crackling) (extinguisher whooshes) – [Andrew] So things are rapidly spinning out of control. (fire crackling) – [Pilot] Okay, let’s get squared away and see what we’ve got here, please.
(people clamoring) – [Narrator] In the cabin, it’s becoming almost impossible to breathe. (people crying) And Jeddah is still 11 miles away. – We’ve lost all hydraulics.
(dramatic music) – [Narrator] The odds on making it back to the airport are getting slimmer. – Dammit, I’ve got no ailerons. – [Narrator] Davidge can’t steer the plane with no hydraulics. – Actually, hang on, I’ve got it. – [Narrator] Captain Allan struggles with his control.
– [Captain] Hang on. – [Narrator] But it too could fail at any moment. – (grunts) Let’s get lined up before things get any worse. Okay, so we’re at 10,000 feet now.
Declaring an emergency.
We are having flight control problems. – Roger, Roger, I thought you were Saudi 738. – [Narrator] Only now does the controller realize that the troubled aircraft is the Nationair flight. – Turn left right now. Heading 080, expect runway 34 left.
(air whooshing) – By this time it’s pandemonium inside the cabin. (people clamoring and coughing) Passengers are being engulfed by flames (people coughing) and bodies are starting to fall from the aircraft fuselage. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] The plane is right over Jeddah, a city of 2 million people. – Bodies were falling out of the aircraft 11 miles from the airport. – Okay, sir, we’re having trouble turning.
We are having flight control problems. We will try to turn left. We are having flight control problems. – [William] And the situation, it would’ve made certainly controlling the aircraft for an approach and landing very, very difficult. (air whooshing) How much further?
– 10 miles, 1,700 feet.
(people coughing) – [Narrator] Choking for air, some passengers try to open the doors. At this speed, it’s impossible. – [Woman] No, don’t! (people coughing) – Jeddah, 2120, clear to land, runway 34.
– [Pilot] Okay, we’re coming straight in. We’ll on the left. Require emergency vehicles immediately. We have a fire. We will be ground evacuating.
– Jeddah 2120, clear to land any runway. Clear to land. – There it is, it’s two miles out. – All right, let’s get on the ground. (suspenseful music) I lost elevators.
Christ, I have no control. Landing gear down. (suspenseful music) (people clamoring) (explosion) – [Narrator] The fiery explosion and sudden impact with the ground has all but obliterated flight 2120. (somber music) 247 passengers and 14 crew members are dead. This is the worst accident ever for a Canadian airline and the deadliest crash of a DC-8 in history.
(suspenseful music) – How much fuel have we used? – Flight engineer Gilles Jardinaud keeps a vigilant eye on fuel consumption. – We’ve got the 800 kilos. – [Narrator] Concorde burns through it at an astonishing rate. In the short taxi to the runway, the planes four engines have already used as much fuel as the average car uses in six months.
(dramatic music) Booking a seat on the famed jet requires deep pockets. The return fare to New York costs more than $9,000. – [Man] It was not something and affordable for those people we had on board. Some of them will tell you that they didn’t even know how much they were paying. (dramatic music) – [Controller] Air France 4590, runway 26, right, clear for takeoff.
– 4590, cleared for takeoff, 26 right. – [Narrator] The tower controller today is Gilles Logelin. – [Gilles] I was stationed in a Southern control tower, which has a very good view over the two runways that we use. (somber music) This day was the same as usual. I gave him the takeoff clearance.
(plane whooshes) (suspenseful music) – [Pilot] Four greens. – V1. – [Narrator] The first officer tells the captain they’ve reached V1, or decision speed. They’re now going too quickly to abort the takeoff. – You cannot stop anymore.
You have to go on, you have to continue take off whatever happens. (dramatic music) (plane whooshes) – [Pilot] Watch out! – [Narrator] Suddenly the plane begins veering left. – Stop! – [Narrator] The flight engineer urges the captain to about to take off, but it’s too late to stop.
(beeping) Captain Marty lifts the supersonic jet into the year. Gilles Logelin realizes he’s now watching a disaster. (plane whooshes) – This was a very unexpected situation to see flames on an aircraft that is departing on a runway.
We don’t have time to lose, so immediately I’ve pushed the red button, which is a method for outlet. (emergency siren wails) – 4590, you have flames behind you.
– [Pilot] Roger. – [Narrator] The plane is engulfed in flames. – [Co-Pilot] Failure, engine two. – Engine fire procedure. – [Narrator] Captain Marty struggles for control as the engineer shuts down the burning engine.
It activates a fire extinguisher. – Watch the airspeed. – [Narrator] The plane’s airspeed is now dangerously low. – Airspeed, the airspeed. – Something is happening.
(air whooshes) (people clamoring) Some things that is not covered by training, (plane whooshes) Something that in pilot career, you don’t want to face. – [Narrator] First Officer Marcot wants to head for a nearby airport. – [Jean] Le Bourget, Le Bourget. – [Narrator] But the crew can’t outfly the fire that is rapidly consuming their plane, (people screaming) the supersonic marvel of modern aviation. (pilot grunts) (plane whooshes) (explosion) slams into an airport hotel.
(speaks in a foreign language) – I could see kinda big mushroom of smoke. I think until the very last moments where I was thinking that something we saved the situation. (indistinct controllers speaking) – [Narrator] August 7th, 1997, Fine Air cargo flight 101 prepares to take off from Miami to the Dominican Republic.
(engine revving up) At 12:30 p.m.
, when flight 101 taxis to its runway, First Officer Petrosky recites a familiar drill. – Standard flying out procedure. There’s a problem prior to V1, which is 130 knots. The pilot in command will abort the airplane. Treat anything after V1 as an in-flight emergency.
– Sounds good. – [Narrator] At 12:34, the tower makes contact. – Fine Air 101, fly heading 270, cleared for takeoff. – [Pat] Takeoff 270 right, Fine Air 101 heavy. (dramatic music) Okay, force spool and stable.
(engine revving) Max power. – Okay, coming up on 60 knots, power set. 80, V1. Rotate – [Narrator] The plane lifts off the runway. – Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
– Zero. (suspenseful music) – [Narrator] The air traffic controller is alarmed by what he no sees.
(suspenseful music) – What’s going on? – Whoa, whoa. – [Narrator] The crew fights to get the plane under control.
(air whooshing) (controller speaks through speaker) – [Controller] Too low, terrain. – What’s happening? – [Controller] Too low, terrain. – No! (emergency beeping) (explosion) (somber music) – [Dispatcher] Where’s your emergency?
– [Man] Yes, there’s been a plane at 72nd and 25th. – [Narrator] It’s the unthinkable, a plane crash in the heart of Miami. The plane’s three men, crew, and security guard are confirmed dead. – Seat belt please. Thank you.
– [Narrator] Cathay Pacific flight 780 is cruising at 38,000 feet over the South China Sea. (beeping) Captain Malcolm Waters and his crew are nearing the end of a four and a half hour flight from Indonesia to Hong Kong. (plane whooshing) 165 miles from the Hong Kong airport, the airbus leaves cruising altitude and begins its descent. And then something goes wrong. (beeping) The flight computer is alerting the pilots to a problem.
– Okay, let’s see what we got. (beeping) (chimes) – Engine two stall. – [Narrator] The plane’s monitoring system indicates there’s an issue with the right engine, engine number two. (beeping) (plane whooshes) With no explanation for the incident, Captain Waters reduces power on the engine to idle to protect it from damage. – [Captain] Idle.
– [Narrator] The lowest possible power level while still keeping it running. (dramatic music) The pilots prepare to land the Airbus with only one engine.
Everything is set for an emergency landing, (beeping) but then another alert and more vibrations. – Engine one stall. – Engine one stall confirmed.
– [Narrator] Things have gone from bad to worse. The monitoring system indicates they’ve just lost the other engine, the one they were counting on to get the plane to Hong Kong. (suspenseful music) The monitoring system tells the pilots to put the malfunctioning engine number into idle. They are a minute from touchdown. (rapid beeping) Then, another alert – It’s overspeed.
– [Narrator] It’s an overspeed warning, a signal the aircraft is flying too fast. Captain Waters can’t figure it out. They should be slowing down. He rechecks the controls. Then he sees it.
Engine number one, which he throttled back minutes earlier is still running at 74% power.
High thrust, too high to land safely. – [Controller] Too low, terrain. Too low, terrain. – [Narrator] Their speed is over a hundred miles per hour faster than normal, so fast the flight computer doesn’t recognize that the pilots are trying to land.
(plane whooshes) Captain waters pushes the nose down, forcing the Airbus onto the runway. (explosion) (plane whooshes) (people screaming) The Airbus is getting close to the end of the runway. (plane whooshes) Finally, the aircraft comes to a halt just a short distance from the water’s edge. They’ve used up more than 8,800 feet over a mile and a half of runway. – [David] Once the aircraft did stop, there’s a look of what the hell just happened?
– [Narrator] It’s a rough ride aboard a 737 on descent in New Orleans.
A violent thunderstorm has caught the pilot’s off guard. – Ask to take their seats. – [Co-Pilot] Flight attendants, please take your seats. (rain tapping on window) – [Narrator] Suddenly less than 17,000 feet from the ground, the flight becomes all the more terrifying.
– We lost power on the engines I’ve got nothing. – [Narrator] The plane has enough speed to glide, but not for long. It will rapidly lose altitude as it does. The crew has only one option left. – I guess I’m gonna have to make a ditching here, sir.
– [Narrator] They must take their chances and put the plane down on the water.
– Tackle 110, Roger, whatever you need to do, sir. – [Carlos] And that was about the last communication with the tower. Then we were like 1500 feet when that was going on. – [Narrator] Dardano plans to put the plane down in the canal directly ahead of him.
– Okay, there. – (sighs) Put it down softly. (suspenseful music) – [Narrator] The 737 can only stay in the air for another minute. As Dardano looks for a safe stretch of canal to drop the plane in, another option appears. – [Dionisio] Look, look, at that one over there.
– [Carlos] And then Lopez saw the levee parallel to the canal that we were making the approach. – Put it down on the grass. – Yes, boss. – [Narrator] The levee is much shorter and narrower than a runway, but it looks safer than the water. – That’s where we’re going to go in.
– You’ve got it, my friend. Okay, put the gear down. (suspenseful music) All right. – [Narrator] But Captain Dardano is still flying towards the water. To have any hope of landing on the levee, he needs to make a sudden and dramatic course correction.
That requires a risky maneuver known as a sideslip. – So we just got to do a little bit side slip to get into position, to make a perfect landing. – [Narrator] It’s a movement for small planes and gliders, not a 47-ton Boeing 737, but it’s a risk he has to take. (suspenseful music) – That’s it, papa. – [Narrator] Only 700 feet separate the plane from the ground.
Without engines, the pilots have no thrust reversers to slow the plane when it touches down. Dardano has an additional challenge. With only one eye, he’s unable to gauge depth as he speeds towards the narrow rain-soaked strip of grass. There’s a high cement wall in front of the levee and a steep embankment on the left. There may not be enough room to land.
– Watch out for the wing on that side. – [Carlos] I see it. Come on. (air whooshing) (speaks in a foreign language) (crashing) (air whooshes) (dramatic music) (men laughing) – There ya go. There ya go, Charlie.
(speaks in a foreign language) – [Translator] The landing was spectacular. The plane landed so smoothly. There wasn’t even a bit of turbulence. (speaks in a foreign language) A perfect landing. – [Narrator] January, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 departs New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
(air whooshes) There are 150 passengers on board bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. – [Woman] The aircraft took off uneventfully, and very shortly after takeoff, they lost all engines as a result of of birds. – I caught something out of the corner of my eye and slightly to our right, but still ahead of us was a line of – Birds. – And they were very, very close, too close for us to maneuver around. – Whoa!
– [Narrator] After quickly assessing the situation captain Sully Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles realized that without engine power, they’re not going to make it to any nearby airport. (air whooshes) – We’re gonna be in the Hudson. (suspenseful music) Brace for impact. – [Flight Attendant] Stay down! – [Woman] You need to be aware of your brace position.
In many, many accidents, the cabin crew are trying desperately to get the passengers into the brace position, but because the passengers haven’t read the safety features card, they don’t know what that means. – Get your heads down and stay down. (electronic chimes) – [Narrator] Proper brace position is knees together, feet flat on the floor, body bent as far forward as possible with arms wrapped under the legs or braced against the seat in front of you. – Your body’s gonna be thrown forward. So if you can get yourself into that position beforehand the amount of movement back and forth is going to be reduced and the level of injury will be less.
(dramatic music) – [Narrator] In the cabin, the passengers prepare for the inevitable. – [Clay] All the passengers really started kinda pulling together and somebody yelled out as we were going down: – [Male Passenger] Be ready at the doors. – [Flight Attendant] Stay down! – [Clay] The folks at the door says, we’re ready.
– [Narrator] Clay Presley does what all passengers should.
He stays calm and tries to think ahead. – So I started thinking about if we’re going to crash, I know I need to figure out where the exit rows are. If the water comes in, you need to be able to hold your breath long enough to get to those four or five rows and get the doors open if you can.
– [Narrator] But before anyone can escape, they must first survive a high-speed impact. (light water splashes) – Looked like the airplane was going right for the bottom of the Hudson River.
(dramatic music) Then the airplane popped up, and it was just sort of gently rocking in the waves. – [Narrator] In an instant, the $75 million plane has become an unlikely boat floating down the Hudson River.
It’s now filling with freezing water. – That water was cold. It was very cold, so your feet are freezing.
– You land in the Hudson in the middle of the winter, the water is going to be very cold and you’re gonna suffer from hypothermia very quickly. Their feet and their hands will get numb. They’re gonna be useless. (door handle squeaks) – [Narrator] Passengers nearest the exits open the doors. (suspenseful music) – [Clay] I just jumped up very quickly and started making my way to the emergency door.
And so I worked my way out onto the wing, just a few steps to start with. – Fortunately, they had slide rafts rather than just slides. So what they were able to do is evacuate passengers into the slide rafts. – [Narrator] In the end, all 150 passengers and the entire crew of flight 1549 are brought to safety. Another example of how serious aviation accidents often end well.
Asiana flight 214 is nearing the end of an overnight flight from Seoul, Korea to San Francisco. Ben Levy is a frequent flyer returning home. (grunts) – [Ben] And I fly pretty often for business or visiting my family. I’m originally from France. And so, you know, I fly long distance a lot.
I fly in and out of SFO a lot. So I know the airport very well. (people chattering) – [Narrator] Many of the other 291 passengers are Chinese, including a group of teenagers on their way to summer camp in the United States. – [Controller] Asiana 214, heavy runway 28 left. Clear to land – [Lee] Landing checklist complete, clear to land.
On glide path. – [Narrator] The pilots check a set of lights beside the runway that can help guide them to a safe landing.
– Check. – [Narrator] The plane is less than a minute from the runway when Ben Levy realizes something is wrong. – I remember noticing that there’s a small pier that extend out of the runway and I’m like, wow, we’re very low.
And I dismissed the thought thinking, “Well, what can go wrong?” There’s all the technology on board to make sure that those guys don’t mess up. – [Narrator] In the cockpit, – [Lee] Speed. – [Narrator] a crisis hits. – I’ve got control.
(air whooshes) – Oh God, go around. – [Narrator] The captain pulls up the nose and tries to climb. (passengers clamoring) (dramatic music) – [Lee] Duck! (explosion) (tires skidding) (air whooshing) – [Lee] Hang on, hang on! (crashing) (people screaming) – [Narrator] The brutal impact has torn the tail off the body of the plane.
An engine is burning. If fire spreads to the fuel tanks, the plane could explode.
– Let’s see if we can open this door. – [Narrator] But getting down to the ground will not be easy. – [Ben] I’m expecting at that point to see a slide open, right?
The whole like, Hey, you opened the door, the slide’s gonna open, and there’s no slide. – Whoa, okay. Help each other. (grunts) Come on. – [Narrator] Luckily, some crumpled pieces of the fuselage have formed a makeshift set of stairs.
Ben Levy stays by the door to help the other passengers climb down. – Come on. (emergency sirens wailing) – [Narrator] At San Francisco International Airport, runway 28L is a disaster zone. Fire crews battled to keep flames from consuming the fuselage of Asiana flight 214. (equipment rattling) With rescuers now on board to help the injured, Ben Levy finally heads to safety.
(dramatic music) (soothing music).
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