10 Most Heroic Airline Pilots who Accomplished Incredible Feats

10 Most Heroic Airline Pilots who Accomplished Incredible Feats

Pilots have one of the toughest jobs in the world. They are given the duty of transporting people safely from one point to another. While the world of aviation is more than a century old, unexpected things can always happen. Pilots are trained to take control of any situation, even when it is something they have never had experience with in their lives. Throughout history, we have seen pilots pull miraculous stunts and land the aircraft to safety. Here, we are listing stories of 10 of the most heroic airline pilots, who accomplished incredible feats, even when the odds were against them.




1. On April 17, 2018, Captain Tammie Jo Shults made a successful emergency landing after one of the passenger jet’s engines of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 exploded.

Captain Tammie Jo Shults, pilots, airline, aviation, life, survival, facts, history
Image: Navy

On April 17, 2018, Captain Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, when one of the engines gave up. During the predicament, some shrapnel from the engine caused one of the windows to be blown. This caused one of the passengers to be gravely injured, but despite one side of the aircraft split open, Captain Tammie Jo Shults remained calm and performed an emergency landing.

“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” said Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, 56, a former fighter pilot with the US Navy. “We have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.” She asked for medical personnel to meet her aircraft on the runway. “We’ve got injured passengers.”

Despite flying with only one engine and part of the plane missing, the ex-fighter pilot managed to successfully land the aircraft at Philadelphia International Airport, saving 148 souls onboard. (source)

2. On October 11, 2016, pilot He Chao managed to avoid a runway collision with another plane at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport by making a steep take-off, saving the lives of the 439 people on-board the two aircrafts.

He Chao, a Chinese pilot was preparing himself for a routine flight when he noticed that another aircraft was entering the runway. Both the planes in the runway had a total of 439 people on-board; including the pilots and crew members. The co-pilot hesitated to make the climb since the aircraft had not reached the required speed. Chao however, was a trained pilot with years of experience. He quickly determined that applying the brakes will only lead to a collision between the two. Thinking quickly, he made a sharp ascend, missing the other aircraft by only 19 meters or 62 feet.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) investigated and discovered that the air traffic controller had made the mistake. Thanks to Chao’s quick thinking and actions, a tragedy was avoided. The CAAC later released a simulation that showed how close the encounter was. For his bravery and saving all 439 souls on-board, Chao was awarded 3 million yuan ($471,000) by the airline. (source)




3. On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 lost both engines when it struck a flock of geese just two minutes after take off. Despite this, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely glided the plane onto the Hudson River, saving all 155 passengers on-board.

The Miracle on the Hudson, New York, Sullenberger, Captain, pilots, life, facts, aviation, survival
Image: Greg L/Wikimedia

When US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York, it was a normal day for Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Just two minutes after take off, a flock of geese hit the plane, causing both the engines to fail. Despite efforts to restart the engine, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger realized that they were on their own. As the aircraft was gliding, Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles made the decision to turn around. However, since there was no power, they immediately recognized that the aircraft was about to go down.

Thinking quickly and in an effort to minimize casualties, Capt. Sully took control and headed towards the Hudson River. Despite the odds stacked against him, Capt. Sully managed to glide the aircraft and make a perfect landing; saving all 155 passengers. Although Capt. Sully received wide public acclaim for the safe landing, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an inquiry into whether he should have turned back to LaGuardia Airport instead. After 14 simulations, they concluded that he made the right choice. The incident was adapted into a 2016 film, Sully, starring Tom Hanks. Today, the incident is remembered as “The miracle on the Hudson“. (source)

4. On June 12, 1972, the rear cargo door suddenly broke off of the American Airlines Flight 96. Despite being unable to control the speed of the aircraft, Captain Bryce McCormick managed to successfully land at twice the speed.

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Image: Wikimedia

American Airlines Flight 96 from LA to New York ran into trouble soon after a stopover in Detroit. After the flight took off from Detroit, the rear cargo door suddenly broke off. This caused the cabin to decompress at a fast rate. The sudden decompression also caused part of the floor at the rear of the cabin to give way. Captain Bryce McCormick who was piloting initially thought that the plane had suffered a mid-air collision, and declared an emergency.

When the rear of the cabin gave away, it also disconnected one of the engines and severed a control cable. With only one engine and partial control, Capt. Bryce made the choice to return to Detroit. Despite an emergency, the oxygen masks did not deploy because the plane was below the 14,000ft limit and the flight attendants had to take oxygen to the passengers. With no controls to slow the aircraft, Capt. Bryce landed the crippled aircraft, saving all 56 on-board. (source)

5. On June 10, 1990, a badly-fitted windscreen panel failed on British Airways Flight 5390, sucking the captain, Tim Lancaster, halfway out of the cockpit. The flight attendants held onto his feet while the co-pilot Alastair Atchison made a successful emergency landing.

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Image: BBC/YouTube

On June 10, 1990, British Airways Flight 5390 took off from Birmingham, England and headed towards Malaga, Spain. The plane was carrying 81 passengers and four flight crew. After ascending for about 20 minutes, the left windscreen of the cockpit had separated from the plane. As a result of the malfunction, the pilot, Captain Timothy Lancaster, was ripped from his seat and sucked out of the missing cabin window. Luckily, one of the flight crew members, Nigel Ogden, happened to be on the flight deck when the incident happened.

Nigel Ogden quickly grabbed the captain and clung to a chair. At the same time, another crew member, Simon Rogers, rushed onto the flight deck, strapped himself into the pilot’s seat, and then grabbed hold of the captain. The co-pilot, Alistair Atcheson, put on his oxygen mask and took control of the aircraft. Since the aircraft was traveling at speeds exceeding 300 mph, the sound of the wind made it hard for the co-pilot to communicate with the tower. Despite all this, Alistair Atcheson managed to land the aircraft at Southampton Airport and all the crew members were rushed to emergency rooms to be treated. Despite being exposed to freezing temperatures and winds exceeding 300 mph, Capt. Timothy Lancaster survived thanks to the crew members who held onto him for more than 20 minutes. (source)




6. On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 ran out of fuel due to a refueling miscalculation caused by a recent switch to the metric system. Thankfully, the aircraft was being piloted by Captain Bob Pearson, who was an experienced glider pilot. He successfully glided the 767 to RCAF Station Gimli.

Gimli Glider, Canada, Air Canada, life, aviation, pilots, facts
Image: Wikimedia

In 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 was cruising at 40,000 feet, when both engines failed. The pilots quickly rushed to figure out the issue and noticed that it was none other than the aircraft running out of fuel. The whole ordeal happened because the aircraft was brand new, had some glitches and the country had just switched to the metric system. Due to a chain of broken commands, the pilots actually left with less than half of what they would need to fly the scheduled 2,100 miles from Montreal to Edmonton. The fact that a processor that alerts the pilots of low fuel was disconnected didn’t help them either.

Despite all the issues, the aircraft was being piloted by Captain Bob Pearson, an experienced glider pilot. Captain Pearson called into air traffic control to make way for an emergency landing in Winnipeg. The pilot was ready to make the landing with whatever partial power the aircraft was receiving from one engine. However, as the landing strip was getting closer, the engine gave away and the flight was flying in the dark. As the aircraft was approaching the runway, only a small turbine was providing enough power to steer. With years of experience in hand, Capt. Pearson touched down smoothly but had to brake so hard that he blew two tires, while the aircraft’s nose fell off, starting a small fire. Despite all this, all 61 on-board escaped unharmed. (source)

7. In 1982, a British Airways 747 flew into a cloud of volcanic ash near Indonesia, causing all four engines to fail. The plane only had a few minutes of glide time remaining before landing in the ocean, when the pilots managed to restart the engine and gain altitude.

British Airways 747, volcanic ash, Jakarta, life, people, pilots, facts
Image: Wikimedia

On June 24, 1982, a British Airways 747 was being piloted by Captain Eric Moody when the aircraft was surrounded by a volcanic plume. The thick volcanic plume caused the aircraft to lose one engine at a time. Soon after that, the cabin started to smell like sulphur. Not knowing what had happened, Captain Eric Moody and his crew rushed to get the engines running again. Meanwhile, the technician calculated that they had only a few minutes to glide 21 miles, before they land in the ocean.

As the ocean was fast approaching, the crew tried restarting the engine while Capt. Moody conveyed the following message to the passengers: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are all doing our best to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.” After gaining altitude, the pilots realized that the molten ash was causing the engines to clog again. The pilots quickly made an emergency call and headed to the nearest airport in Jakarta, where they landed safely.

When authorities conducted an investigation, they discovered that the molten ash caused the engine blades to erode away. The crew members’ quick actions were the reason the aircraft and all of the 247 passengers on board safely landed. An inspection of the black box also revealed that after the engines failed, the aircraft made a descend from 37,000 ft to 12,000 ft, within a few minutes, and the pilots had less than 2 minutes to restart the engines before they landed in the ocean. (source)




8. On January 17, 2008, BA Flight 38 was just two miles from Heathrow when its engines suddenly failed due to a build up of ice crystals in its fuel lines. The plane landed around 330 meters short of the runway and had to be written off.

BA Flight 38, John Coward, life, pilots, facts, survival, aviation
Image: Marc-Antony Payne

In 2008, when BA Flight 38 was just two miles from Heathrow, the pilots commanded for increased power. Instead, the power reduced on both engines, leading to a loss of airspeed. The crew members had limited time to figure out the issue and so, focused on landing the aircraft safely. Sadly, the speed and altitude of the aircraft was insufficient to make it to the runway and the pilots were forced to land about 1,000 feet (330m) short.

As the aircraft touched down, the landing gear ripped off and it skidded all the way to the end of the runway. There were 16 crew members and 136 passengers on board, all of whom survived with minor injuries. However, the aircraft was a complete loss. An investigation revealed that the loss of engine control was due to a fuel system blockage caused by ice that formed in the fuel system. Ironically, the courageous pilot who made the extraordinary landing was named John Coward. (source)

9. On April 13, 2010, Cathay Pacific Flight 780 suffered failure of both engines. Despite having to land at twice the normal speed, Australian pilots, Malcolm Waters and David Hayhoe safely landed the aircraft.

Cathay Pacific Flight 780, landing, airline, pilots, facts, science, aviation
Image: Aero Icarus

When Flight CX780 was making its final approach, the power setting jammed in the one functioning engine, forcing the pilots to land the plane at a dangerously high speed of 231 knots, some 109 miles (177 kmph) above the normal landing speed. Both engines then began misfiring over the South China Sea, about 50 nautical miles from Hong Kong. The pilots, Waters and Hayhoe, had six or seven minutes at most before they we were at sea level. Just before the aircraft was about to land in the sea, the pilots slowly increased the thrust to which engine no 1 responded.

This allowed them to fly the aircraft until the landing strip but as they approached the landing strip, the pilots realized that they had another problem at hand. The thrust for engine no 1 was jammed at about 70% of total power; causing the aircraft to land at a high speed of 231 knots, some 109 miles (177 kmph) above the normal landing speed. When they touched down, the aircraft bounced back up and made a steep left turn. The pilots quickly took control and were able to make a second touchdown and stop at some 309 meters short of the end of the runway. The two Australian pilots, Malcolm Waters and David Hayhoe, were awarded the Polaris Award for heroism and airmanship by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations. (source)

10. On September 20, 2005, pilots of JetBlue Flight 292 successfully landed the aircraft after its front wheels were turned sideways and stuck as they tried to retract the gear.

When Flight 292, bound for JFK Airport in New York, took off from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, the pilots discovered the plane’s front wheels were turned sideways and stuck as they tried to retract the gear. After calling in an emergency, officials decided to land the aircraft in LAX and advised the pilots to rely on the back wheels during most of the landing. The aircraft was carrying 140 passengers, and more than 100 firefighters and dozens of pieces of equipment lined the runway as the plane approached to make the emergency landing.

Despite malfunctioning landing gear, pilot Scott Burke remained calm and made a smooth landing. Capt. Burke kept the nose of the aircraft in the air as long as possible, thus reducing the amount of damage to the aircraft. When the landing gear finally touched down, friction set the landing gear ablaze. Nevertheless, the pilot was able to land the aircraft and save all souls on-board. (source)




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