• Graveyard Shift

Pilots Relay Their Most Terrifying Experiences They Didn't Alert Passengers Of

Ask any experienced pilot and they'll inform you most airplane disasters often get prevented without the passengers on board ever having to bother a flight attendant. According to airplane statistics, you have a one in 29.4 million chance of being killed in a crash if you only take one flight. That number increases as you spend more time in the air. Recent flying statistics break down the fatalities per one million hours of flight time to 12.25 deaths. Luckily, because of some sky-high finesse from the ones in the control room, most potential airplane disasters end up becoming close calls, albeit ones where the stakes are literally high.

Since your odds of getting killed in a crash are slim, this means the scary things about flying are the near-misses themselves, not the crashes. Here are some Reddit tales from pilots about this very topic, and how they braved turbulance, engine failure, and other scary aspects of flying to get you to your destination.

  • He Missed The Other Plane By Mere Feet

    From HarborMaster1:

    "Half the passengers in this story had no idea, while the other half likely crapped themselves. My father was a captain for Eastern Airlines and told a story about almost being at takeoff speed when another commercial jet taxied across his runway. He was going too fast to abort so he had to pull up early and cleared the other plane by mere feet (don't remember the exact amount). His passengers had no idea but the other plane's passengers saw everything. I don't know what ended up happening to the other pilot, but my dad got an apology call from him that evening."

  • A Few "Oops" Moments

    From tostilocos:

    "Private pilot here (I fly an itty bitty little Cessna 172s). I've had a few incidents:

    Shortly after getting licensed, I flew my wife's parents to Catalina. With four adults and enough fuel to get there and back (no gas on the island), we were a bit heavy, but well within the plane's limits (I had done all of my weight and balance calculations the night before and even consulted my instructor since I'd only been licensed a few months prior). The flight out to the island was uneventful. We had a nice lunch, walked around a bit, and were heading back in the early afternoon.

    Before takeoff I got the WX report and noticed it was a bit warmer than earlier in the day (planes don't take off as well in warm weather). I did the calculations again and we were still well within limits for our weight, temp, and runway length. My instructor had taken me through warm takeoffs, so I was prepared to have a longer than normal takeoff roll.

    We line up at the end of the runway, I hold brakes and bring the engine up, then roll out. We're gaining speed, but I can feel the plane isn't getting lighter. We hit our normal rotation speed (around 75kts) and I rotate gently. The nose lifts up, the back wheels pick off a bit, then the plane settles right back down to the runway. At this point my sphincter puckers up and I seriously consider abandoning the takeoff. Catalina's runway ends at a cliff - if you over run you plummet into the ocean. I check the airspeed which is still climbing steadily, so I know we'll be alright. Sure enough we hit about 85kts, I rotate again, and this time we're off for good.

    We had a lovely flight home, landed without incident. After we land my family all remark that the whole trip was so smooth and pleasant. I waited a bit before telling my Dad that I just about locked the brakes up and killed the engine on takeoff to avoid running us off the cliff.

    The second one wasn't as bad. Took a buddy up a few weeks after getting licensed. We did some sightseeing and then came back to home home airport, where the crosswinds had picked up considerably. You train for crosswinds a lot, but if you're not lucky you don't get to experience them as much as you'd like with your instructor. I knew they were within my personal limits, but they were still stronger than any I had landed in previously. I crabbed the thing in d*mn near sideways (in a x-wind you point the nose into the wind and compensate with aileron, then throw the thing straight just before touchdown), making adjustments the whole way in -  a lot of work and quite nerve wracking. Touched down a little rough and had to correct a bit further through that, but got her in plenty safe. My buddy says 'Man that was a smooth landing!' meanwhile I'm trying to keep my hand from shaking as I bring the throttle down."

  • The Airplane Started Shaking Like Crazy

    From jfrye1:

    "I am a pilot with ~300 hours. I own a 1967 Cessna 172 (single engine, four seats), and I absolutely love my airplane. First flight after my check ride, I was flying my mom to visit my dad in another state.

    Up to this point, everything is going great. Smooth flight, no winds, not a cloud in the sky. My mom is sleeping in the back seat. We are descending into our destination when the plane starts shaking like crazy. Scanning my instruments, I notice an immediate RPM drop. The airplane is shaking so much I fear the engine will come loose from its mount. Luckily, there is an airport less than five miles away. I land, shut the engine down, and sit quietly, and calm my nerves. It is at this point I hear my mom remark, 'Oh, we're here...' 

    Turns out she had slept through the whole thing, and woke up as soon as I shut the engine down. I explained what had happened, and she was rather grateful she had slept through it! For the curious, my engine (a Continental O300) was nearing TBO and had a piston that had begun to disintegrate. $20,000 and an engine overhaul later, we were back in the air."

  • The Windshield Shattered While 26,000 Feet In The Air

    From AviatorDave:

    "My biggest 'oh crap' moment was when my windshield shattered at 26,000 feet. The passengers did know about this one because you could see right into the cockpit from the cabin.

    It's very rare to have actual 'oh crap' moments for pilots. Usually it's because of a mechanical malfunction with something that catches you by surprise. I'd say it's strongly correlated to the amount of flight time you have. The more experience you have, the less you say it.

    There is a saying in aviation about learning to fly, 'You start out with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill up the bag of experience before you run out of luck.'"