Editor's column by Louise Driscoll

Landing on a prayer: my experience of engine failures

"We have lost power from two engines." Those were the distressing words of our pilot over the tannoy while we were flying over the Atlantic.

VIDEO: LOT plane's dramatic landing as it slides across runway without wheels“We have lost power from two engines”. Those were the distressing words of our pilot over the tannoy while we were flying over the Atlantic, about ten years ago.

This announcement sent everyone in the cabin into a panic, myself included, while we were two hours into an eight hour flight to London.

The double engine failure on our 747 prompted the flight crew to return to our starting point in Florida.

It was either that option or risk further engine failures if we were too far into our Atlantic crossing to turn back.

As we landed in Orlando, fire trucks chased us down the runway, their intermittent flashing lights piercing the cabin through the porthole windows. That moment was the most reassuring part of my journey.

We were then ushered into overnight accommodation and were never given an explanation of the circumstances around the engine failures.

To my knowledge, the incident was never broadcast.

A decade on, a double engine failure event would probably escalate into a major news story in today’s media, where technical glitches on commercial jets make for good news fodder.

While mid-air engine failures – single or multiple – can be a frightening experience for passengers, they are manageable events and are a part of routine training for flight crew.

This week’s unscheduled landing of a Qantas A380 plane due to an engine problem was a clear example of a non-story that was sensationalised in the media.

The London-bound jet diverted to Dubai after what the airline said was ‘an oil quantity defect’.

There were two reasons why this story received more attention than it deserved: comedian Stephen Fry happened to be on board. Secondly, the incident occurred exactly a year after Qantas’ entire A380 fleet was grounded over a serious, completely unrelated uncontained engine failure.

It goes to show how little airlines can get away with these days.

Even this week’s dramatic mid-air emergency, in which a passenger jet landed on its belly – literally without any wheels – was caught on camera and the video footage played out to millions on news channels around the world.

The Boeing 767, operated by polish airline, LOT was loaded with passengers and baggage (thankfully not fuel) as the crew on the flight deck braced for the kind of landing that most pilots never experience in their entire careers.

It was remarkable to see such a controlled landing, as the jet slid through the fire retardant foam blanketing the runway – with an emergency response team rallying behind it.

The footage showed the world how ditching on the runway without any wheels should be done.

It also sets a fine example of the precise co-ordination between ground crew, air traffic control and flight crew that resulted in a perfectly executed emergency landing – with the risk of a fire minimised by the actions of the flight crew and the preparation on the ground.

All 231 passengers walked away unscathed, but understandably shaken and traumatised by the landing, which sent smoke, sparks and some flames into the air – of which passengers would have had a clear view through their windows.

My experience over the Atlantic pales in comparison, but has still left a big impression on me – so much so, that it led me to a long career in aviation.

Have you ever been on a plane that has suffered engine failure? How has it affected you? Leave your comments below.

Louise

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