Broken wings, fuel leaks and open doors: 21 of the most terrifying incidents in air travel history

Telegraph Travel
Near misses, turbulence and aircraft fires are all among these nerve-inducing incidents

A Thomas Cook plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Manchester this week with part of its wing missing. The airline said that the reason the aircraft, bound for Cuba, returned to the airport was because of a "low oil indication, unrelated to the wing".

This broken wing wasn't why the plane made an emergency landing, apparently

Still, whatever the reason, the episode would have made for a rather unpleasant start to the holiday for some 322 passengers on board. But it is nothing compared to some other mishaps travellers on planes have had to endure when things go awry. Read on for the worst.  

1. A plane that shudders like a 'washing machine'

Passengers on board an AirAsia flight this week were told by the captain to "say a prayer" after a reported problem with an engine left the plane shuddering like a "washing machine". Deeply unsettling footage shows the Airbus A330 shaking violently after an apparent bang from the left engine. 

The Kuala Lumpur-bound flight turned back to Perth one and a half hours into the journey due to a "technical issue" and the aircraft landed about three hours after departure.

Brenton Atkinson, 24, said the whole plane started shaking. "The engine seized up I think, that's what they told us anyway," he told ABC News.

"It was literally like you were sitting on top of a washing machine. The whole thing was going. We could see the engine out the window which was really shaking on the wing. Once we landed we realised one of the blades had actually come off the turbine."

2. Is fuel meant to be gushing from the wing like that?

A United Airlines flight to Venice was cancelled earlier this month after a passenger spotted fuel pouring from a wing while the aircraft awaited clearance to take off.

The Boeing 767-300 was about to depart from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey when it was forced to return to gate after someone in a window seat alerted crew to a fuel leak in its left wing.

A video posted on social media showed fuel gushing from the plane onto the apron. The Twitter user who tweeted the video, known as Rachel, said: "How not one crew member saw this is beyond me. Thank god we were lookin [sic] out the window at take off."

3. Hole-in-one (engine)

China Eastern Airlines' Flight MU736 was forced to turn back to Sydney Airport after a technical failure left a hole in the engine casing. Passengers, bound for Shanghai, reported a burning smell in the cabin, while the pilot said problems with the engine about an hour into the flight meant it was necessary to turn back. 

Several passengers said they had heard a loud sound coming from the left engine shortly after take-off. One passenger told Australia's Seven News network: "All of a sudden we heard this noise... it kind of smelt like burning".

4. When the propeller falls off

A Regional Express Airlines flight with 19 passengers flirted with disaster in March after one of its propellers fell off on the approach to Sydney Airport. 

The spinning propeller was reported to have detached itself from the shaft and flown over the wing without touching the Saab 340 aircraft, the airline confirmed.

The spinning propeller (not pictured) detached itself from the shaft and flew over the wing without touching the Saab 340 aircraft Credit: AP

The plane landed safely but the Australian carrier has since grounded five other aircraft with the same propeller gear boxes and shafts from its fleet of 55 Saab 340s.

Those on board the domestic flight from Albury, around 500 kilometres (300 miles) from Sydney, were "lucky in the extreme" that the propeller had not crashed into the fuselage or tail of the plane, noted Paul Cousin, president of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association.

5. When the plane goes 'pyscho'

A pilot who saved the lives of more than 300 people by averting the crash of his passenger jet broken his silence earlier this years, describing how the aircraft's computer "went psycho" plunging the plane hundreds of feet in seconds.

Captain Kevin Sullivan was in charge of Qantas Flight 72, from Singapore to Perth, when the Airbus A330’s auto-pilot malfunctioned twice, first dropping the aircraft 690 feet in 23 seconds, and again sending it 400 feet in 15 seconds, causing more than 100 injuries to passengers.

On that day in October 2008, Sullivan was forced to declare mayday and make an emergency landing at Learmouth Airport in Western Australia, gripped with the fear that the plane might nosedive again.

“It’s the worst thing that can happen when you are in an aeroplane - when you are not in control,” he told Good Weekend, part of the Sydney Morning Herald.

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6. The see-through engine

A San Francisco-bound American Airlines flight was forced to return to Phoenix last June after part of the plane’s engine cover fell off. An image of the damage was captured by a passenger.

The plane with 136 passengers on board landed safely at Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport just 20 minutes after take-off and none were injured. Both American Airlines and the US Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident.

An image of the exposed engine posted on Facebook by Ken Papagno Credit: Facebook/Ken Papagno

7. Terrifying turbulence

Last May, a video recorded on board an Etihad flight showed passengers praying for their lives after their plane encountered "severe and unexpected turbulence" during a journey from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta.

The clip, posted to Facebook by Dewi Rachmayani, shows passengers gripping their seats and screaming. Others can be heard shouting "Allahu Akbar" – an opening proclamation of every Islamic prayer. An air steward reportedly said: "I have been a flight attendant for 15 years, this is the first time I've experienced something like this."

8. Who left the door open?

Last year, a Korean passenger jet was flying at 10,000ft when it was discoverd that one of its doors was still ajar. Passengers captured the sound of rushing air and describing scenes of chaos on board. 

Some reported nausea and ear pain during the flight, symptoms that resemble those reported during a slow loss of cabin pressure. Officials said there were no serious injuries or hospitalisations, though travellers were delayed by 15 hours.

9. The disintegrating engine

Back in October 2015, an air passenger in Chile captured the moment the plane’s engine began to fall apart as it took off. The Sky Airline flight from Santiago, the Chilean capital, to Copiapo, was forced to make an emergency landing after panels from the left engine were torn loose as it sped along the runway, moments before it took to the sky. Passengers were put on an alternative flight to allow the plane to undergo repairs.

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10. A crack in the wall

Back in 2014, an American Airlines flight heading from San Francisco to Dallas made an emergency landing when the cabin's wall panels cracked loose. The Boeing 757 departed from San Francisco International Airport shortly and the captain decided to turn around an hour into the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport because of a possible blown air duct. No one on the plane with 184 passengers and six crew members was hurt. Even though the plane's problem is related to pressurisation, the cabin did not lose pressure and oxygen masks did not deploy. James Wilson of Kyle, Texas shot video of the crack and posted it on his Facebook page so his wife, who was en route to Dallas to pick him up, would know what had happened in case of a crash.

11. The flaming plane

A passenger on board captured the terrifying moment in September 2014 when flames burst out of a plane's engine shortly after take-off from Barcelona Airport. The passenger was on board a Transaero flight heading toward a city in Russia around 1,100 miles east of Moscow when she noticed the fire coming from the plane's wing. The Boeing 767 was said to have begun to shake immediately after take-off and the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Barcelona Airport. The flight crew were reported to have shut down the engine of the plane 30 seconds after the incident took place, and the plane spent over an hour in the air dumping fuel. The plane made a safe landing at Barcelona Airport and the passengers were able to carry on their journey to Russia on another flight the next day.

12. A screw loose

The Reddit user Skips LegDay posted these images back in November 2014, explaining: “So about halfway through my flight I heard a loud POP, looked out my window at a bolt that flew off the prop and broke through the outer pane.”

“People around me heard it and seemed nervous once they saw the source of the sound,” he added. “I got up and went to the flight attendant and quietly told her what happened, she came over to see it then called the pilot. He said it will be fine until we land as the cabin's pressurised.

“Once we landed and people stopped snapping pics, the pilot talked to me for a while. Said he's never seen this happen in over 25 years of flying,” the user said.

13. Another flying propeller

An Air Canada passenger was injured in November 2014 after a plane propeller broke off and sliced through the cabin, striking her on the head. The flight from Calgary was forced to make an emergency landing that evening. The passenger, Christina Kurylo, was sitting in a window seat as the plane hit the runway and the right-side propeller snapped off, becoming lodged in the fuselage. The landing initially seemed to be going smoothly until passengers heard "a lot of rattling" as they touched down on the runway. The right landing gear then collapsed and sparks flew as the right undercarriage dragged along the tarmac. After the plane stopped, a moment's silence was broken by cheers and whistles from passengers who then had to hurry out of the cabin as it filled with smoke. Ms Kurylo was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital where she was discharged after six hours having suffered a concussion, sore neck and bruises on her head and shoulders.

14. Turbulence (again)

An American Airlines jet encountered severe air turbulence in December 2014 shortly after taking off from Seoul, South Korea, prompting an unscheduled landing at Narita International Airport in Tokyo after 14 people asked for medical attention. A passenger on the flight filmed the terrifying turbulence on his mobile phone. The airline says four passengers and a crew member needed hospital treatment, but none of those injuries are life-threatening.

After the landing, passengers and crew members were evaluated and treated in Japan. American says there were 240 passengers on board and 15 crew members.

15. A drone near-miss

A drone came within 20ft of striking a passenger aircraft in 2014 shortly before it was due to land at Heathrow Airport, a report into the 'near-miss' foundThe model helicopter passed dangerously close to the Airbus A320, 700ft above the ground on July 22 that year, according the report by the UK Airprox Board, the regulator.

16. Runway near-miss 

Also in July 2014, two passenger jets came seconds from crashing into each other at Barcelona airport. The footage of the heart-stopping moment caught on camera shows a Boeing 767 from the Russian airline UTair coming in to land on a runway at Barcelona's El Prat Airport. But with the plane just feet from touching down, an Aerolineas Argentineas Airbus A340 slowly taxis across the runway, forcing the still-airborne pilot to respond to the emergency by pulling back into the air. The quick-thinking pilot of the UTair jet landed the plane safely after circling around. Plane enthusiast Miguel Angel caught the moment on film, describing it as "one of the worst experiences I have ever had".

17. Too close for comfort 

In a similar incident, a United Airlines pilot had a scare in May 2014 after coming in to land at Newark Airport in the US, only to find another plane taking off from a perpendicular runway just below.

18. Ryanair wings it

Not a high-speed collision this one, but it doesn't inspire passenger confidence when your pilot starts taxi-ing into other planes. This accident was filmed from on board an aircraft at Dublin Airport in October 2014.

19. Close call over New York

A mid-air near miss was recorded over New York in June 2013, between a Delta 747 and a Shuttle America plane near JFK Airport. At one point they were only 200ft apart.

20. Wings collide on Boston runway

A Delta jet is seen clipping the tail of a much smaller plane as it taxis down the runway.

21. Snake on a plane

Less hairy for passengers than it was for the poor snake involved, this video shows what happens when a Samuel L Jackson film plot comes to life. At least the reptile didn't make it into the cabin...