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TRAVEL GEEKS


BREAKOUT Emergency success stories


FREQUENT FLYER


WHAT HAPPENS IN A PLANE EMERGENCY?


THE VAST MAJORITY OF FLIGHTS PASS UNEVENTFULLY, BARRING THE ODD BIT OF TURBULENCE. BUT VERY, VERY OCCASIONALLY, AN EMERGENCY SITUATION KICKS IN. SO, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT DOES? WORDS: DAVID WHITLEY


Emergency! Quite a lot can go wrong on a fl ight, whether it’s a passenger falling ill, an engine giving up the ghost or the plane being on fi re. However, all but the most serious can usually be handled without passengers knowing anything has gone wrong.


So, someone’s fallen ill… Flight attendants aren’t nurses or doctors, but they do undergo enough medical training to administer CPR and spot when respiratory problems or faintness mean something is seriously wrong. When a passenger falls ill, they’ll do what they can, perhaps asking if there’s a medical professional on board who can volunteer to help. There’s also medical kit on


board, but it’s only designed to stabilise someone until landing. Meanwhile, the captain is


going to be in touch with ground consultation services, which have doctors on their teams, to work out the best plan of action. The captain will ultimately make the decision on whether to divert for an extremely costly emergency


146 nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel


landing. Which way the decision goes will depend on whether nearby airports are appropriate and available, as well as the condition of the passenger.


What if an engine dies? As long as it’s just one engine, everything’s probably going to be alright. Modern planes are designed for this eventuality. The Boeing 777, for example, is certifi ed to fl y for up to fi ve- and-a-half hours with a solitary functioning engine. Pilots will, in conjunction with ground crew, arrange to divert for an ‘emergency’ landing at the nearest practical airport. If all the engines fail, it’s glide


time. It’s oſt en possible to glide to a nearby airport and land relatively safely aſt er air traffi c control has cleared the way. Otherwise, the pilot will be


scouting for places to land and trying to get the engines to kick back in once at a lower altitude.


And if cabin pressure is lost? A puncture to the exterior or a fi re can be much more serious than the loss of an engine — mainly


because people will pass out very quickly without supplementary oxygen at the sort of altitude where jet planes cruise. This is when the oxygen masks


drop down from above — but they’ll only give you enough oxygen for about 20 minutes maximum. The plane, at this point, will be in a steep descent — that’s because the pilots are trying to get it below 10,000ſt , where the air is breathable again, as soon as possible.


What happens in an emergency landing? Pilots will switch the transponder to 7700, which tells all air traffi c control stations in the area that a plane needs prioritising. Air traffi c control and the captain will then come up with a plan of action. Many relatively remote


airports are much bigger than they need to be to accommodate such emergency landings. These include Halifax Stanford in Canada, Santa Maria in the Azores and Wake Island in the Pacifi c. Meanwhile, other airports are set aside for security emergencies. In the UK, this is Stansted.


BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT 9 Heading from Kuala Lumpur to Perth in 1982, all four engines on a Boeing 747-200 failed after it fl ew through a volcanic ash cloud. The fl ight crew worked out they had 23 minutes of gliding time and aimed to ditch on the Indian Ocean. However, at a lower altitude, they managed to restart the engines and land safely in Jakarta. Everyone survived.


US AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 Disaster struck on the afternoon of 15 January 2009, when an Airbus A320 struck a fl ock of Canada geese around fi ve minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully ditched the plane on the Hudson River and all 155 people on board survived.


AIR TRANSAT FLIGHT 236 In 2001, a Lisbon to Toronto fl ight sprang a fuel leak while carrying 293 passengers and 13 crew. The captain and fi rst offi cer diverted for the Lajes Air Base in the Azores before the engines fl amed out. An air turbine provided enough electrical power to keep the cockpit sensors and instruments going, and the pilots were able to glide the plane to a successful landing.


IMAGE: GETTY


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