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Plane emergency landings and what they mean

Chronicle Live logo Chronicle Live 14/05/2022 Jonathon Manning
A Beluga Airbus after it was forced to make an emergency landing at Birmingham International Airport © Darren Quinton A Beluga Airbus after it was forced to make an emergency landing at Birmingham International Airport

For some flying is one of the most terrifying situations you can find yourself in. The idea of sitting in a plane while it travels hundreds of miles per hour, thousands of feet above the ground can be enough to make them panic and avoid getting on a plane altogether.

Aerophobia - the fear of flying in a plane - may seem unfounded stated that there was a "one in 3.37 billion chance of dying in a commercial airline plane crash" between 2012 and 2016.

However, when things do go wrong in the air they can be very serious. Even the most experienced pilots can find themselves in a tricky situation if the weather turns or the plane suffers a malfunction.

READ MORE: Simple tricks to get around 100ml liquids rule in airport when packing your hand luggage

But what exactly happens during an emergency landing? Read on to find out more.

The five types of emergency landing

According to flight safety website there are five different types of emergency landing. Which type is performed is dependent on the captain, situation and how much control the plane is under.

  • Forced landing - This is where the plane "unavoidably" needs to land. This could be caused for a number of reasons, including engine failure.
  • Precautionary landing - This situation arises where a plane could continue to fly if needed but it is inadvisable. This could be due to a hazard such as a technical problem with the plane, but one that is not serious enough to declare "Mayday". Precautionary landings can see a plane land at an alternative airfield or even in a field.
  • Ditching - This is an emergency landing that takes place on water. The most famous of these was the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009 when a US Airways flight hit a flock of geese and was forced to land on the Hudson River.
  • Belly landing - This is an emergency landing that takes place with the plane's wheels in the up position. This is often due to an equipment malfunction but can be caused due to pilot error. The pilot may choose to make this landing if they feel it is safer for the passengers to do so.
  • Crash landing - As the name suggests this is an emergency landing in which the plane receives "significant structural damage".

What happens during an emergency landing?

Before an emergency landing can be carried out a pilot must carry out a number of stops. This includes preparing the cabin and contacting the emergency services.

The pilot may also choose to dump a portion of the plane's fuel. This is done in order to reduce the weight of the aircraft as a full tank of fuel is extremely heavy and most planes would not be able to land safely with a full tank.

On a commercial flight, the cabin crew also have an important role. Airbus' safety guide explains that during an emergency the cabin crew's job is to clearly communicate the situation to the passengers and make sure everyone can exit the plane safely.

This means the crew will be telling passengers exactly when the landing will take place. They will also instruct people on how to leave the plane and how they need to prepare themselves and their children.

They may also need to deploy inflatable slides so that passengers can leave the plane safely. Passengers are also told which belongings to take and which to leave, as waiting to collect items can lead to injuries as other passengers may try to push past to get off the plane.

Airbus' safety guide also explains that crews may have to stop passengers from going back onto the plane to collect their belongings. In 2008, one passenger decided to go back for their belongings by climbing up the inflatable slide after the landing. To avoid this, cabin crews are instructed to lead people away from the plane.


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