Strange Smells And Lasers Cause Emergency Landings

Emergency landings card
Flickr, Tim Hagen

Two flights recently had to make emergency landings for unusual reasons. “Strong odors” caused a Lufthansa Stockholm-to-Frankfurt flight to stop in Copenhagen, where 129 passengers were rebooked onto alternate flights. The reason for the smell? A new carpet installed in the airplane.

Staff aboard a Sun Country Airlines flight from Minneapolis smelled smoke and made an emergency landing in Spokane. A passenger was carrying two homemade lasers (he is an unemployed chemist), causing several small burn holes near his seat. He was arrested for willful damage to an aircraft.

It’s been a busy season for emergency landings, mostly for precautionary reasons, but a few odd causes too. Most notably, a drunken passenger caused a cross-country flight to stop in Denver after he allegedly groped several passengers, drinking from his own bottle of vodka after he was refused service. A bird strike caused a Southwest flight to return to Raleigh and be taken out of service. Even rock stars have to deal with problems, as ’80s hair metal bands Ratt and Dokken had to trade their private jet for SUVs after smoke was detected. Better safe than sorry!

See more weird emergency landing stories from our archives, plus the story of a Gadling blogger who had her blog post used as evidence in a lawsuit filed by a “traumatized” passenger after a plane made an emergency landing at O’Hare.

Galley Gossip: Why flight attendants might not open an emergency exit during an evacuation

The first thing a flight attendant does before opening an emergency exit during an evacuation is assess the conditions outside. This is one reason why some airlines require passengers seated in the exit rows to keep their window shades up during takeoff and landing. The last thing you want to do is escape one bad situation only to find yourself in an even worse one. Think fire. Water. Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

BRACE FOR IMPACT!

That’s what everyone on board US Airways flight 1549 heard right before Captain Sully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River after experiencing a double-engine failure while in route to Charlotte, North Carolina January 15, 2009. There were 150 passengers on board and 5 flight crew.

Flight attendant Doreen Walsh did exactly what she was trained to do. After unbuckling her belt and jumping out of her seat, she looked through the tiny porthole window to make sure it was safe outside to open the door. This is when she noticed they hadn’t landed at an airport, and that there was water outside! For a split second she wondered if maybe, just maybe, she could get the slide raft inflated before the water became too high to safely do so, but then quickly realized it was already too late. Before she could begin directing passengers to another exit, a safe exit, the window exit only a few feet away, passengers pushed Doreen out of the way and cracked the door open. Water began flooding inside until it was all the way up to their necks. With only a few seconds left to escape, Doreen ordered everyone standing in the aisle to crawl over the seats.

Three years have passed since the Miracle on the Hudson flight crew gave their testimony to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. And yet I just saw the video for the first time last week. I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I write about travel. Usually I’m up on these things. So if I missed the short clip of the flight attendants detailing their experiences, chances are you probably did, too. That’s why I’ve posted it here.


Flight attendants go through weeks of intensive training. We’re also required to attend a yearly recurrent training program. During this time we role play medical scenarios and practice our emergency evacuation procedures. While we’re yelling our commands, our instructors keep us on our toes by throwing things at us like fire, exits that won’t open, slides that won’t inflate, passengers too afraid to jump, which causes us to go into a whole other set of commands and procedures. Because of our training we’re prepared to handle just about anything, including an evacuation in the Hudson River. Trust me, we’ll ask for help if we need it. Until then please refrain from pushing us aside to open a door we would never in a million years open.

Photo courtesy of PhotoGiddy

Whoa. My Travelblog is Evidence.


On Monday, September 22nd, 2008, I boarded a flight for JFK. I’d been invited to cover Conde Nast Traveler’s World Savers Congress on Twitter and CNT was picking up the tab. They’d booked my ticket, airport limo, and a shoebox room right off Times Square. Wendy Perrin had invited me to dinner; I was starry eyed over the whole thing. It’s a pretty fancy day for an independent blogger when Conde Nast Traveler calls and wants to fly you out for an event. I was psyched.

Then my plane broke, and I didn’t get to have dinner with Wendy Perrin, and that bummed me out a lot. I did get to be one of the first people to tweet about an airline emergency, a status that has earned me exactly…. nothing. I wrote a blog post about the landing that a lot of people read — it got linked to from local newspapers and aviation blogs. Later, I learned that one of the passengers, Jewel Thomas, filed a lawsuit against American Airlines:

Thomas said that after the cabin lights went out, passengers were told to prepare for a rough landing at O’Hare, and that many began to pray. She said she was terrified and called her children on her cell phone, leaving messages saying she loved them.

About six months ago, I got a phone call from the law firm that’s representing American Airlines in the lawsuit. And on November 1, 2011, I attended a deposition. I answered a lot of questions about what, exactly, I saw happen when the plane was diverted to O’Hare.

It was nearly three years ago; there’s a lot I don’t remember. I didn’t remember, for example, that there had been firemen on the plane until the lawyer showed me a picture I’d taken. He passed over a print out of the blog post I’d written that day, comments and all. It was kind of weird to see that little post that I’d scribbled on the continuation flight from O’Hare to JFK handed back to me in this context.

You’d think I’d remember that, right? I didn’t. I also didn’t remember much about the people in my row — I was in an exit row at a window seat. I have zero recollection of people crying, praying, or making phone calls to their loved ones. I don’t remember what I did on the flight, not at all. What did I remember? Something big happened, right?

I remember a landing that was nowhere near as bad as a typical landing at Vienna, Austria’s perpetually windy airport. I remember a shift in realization that, oh, all those emergency vehicles racing this way? They’re for my plane! I remember the guy in the blue jumpsuit — in the terminal he patted me on the shoulder, very kindly, after I told him what had happened. I remember the smiling face of the woman on the grass at O’Hare. I remember that the cabin got very hot, and I remembered a woman walking her cooing baby in the aisle. I remember the stewardess on the replacement flight bringing me a couple of bottles of scotch, which I stowed in my backpack and drank later at my hotel. I remember buying a sandwich from a deli just a few doors from my hotel. When I walked in, two enormous African American guys in big blocky specs were playing chess and they were wildly friendly. They asked me where I was from and when I told them, one of them, the guy in a white track suit, responded, “Damn, girl, what are you doing all the way out THERE!?” as though I was his cousin and had moved too far away.

I hate to fly, though over the past three years I’ve become more relaxed on a plane. I still get green pretty easily, a little turbulence will cause me to break out into a sweat and wish I’d chosen an narrower obsession, one with rail travel, perhaps. Coach aggravates me to no end. I can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and I’m a pacer, I get up and walk to the lav very frequently. I think it’s because I’m nervous.

There were two points that the lawyer for the plaintiffs — they’re plural, I learned today — seemed to be trying to lock down. The first was that perhaps I’d somehow just missed what was going on around me. I wasn’t paying attention. Passengers may have been praying or crying or making phone calls to their loved ones on the ground and I just didn’t notice it.

The other was that I’m somehow biased positively towards air travel because I’m a travel writer. At this point, I really had to try hard not to laugh. “Would you say it’s your job to promote tourism and travel?” I had to think about that. I suppose so, but I’ve also written about seasickness and the tragedies of history and just recently about how I had to haul myself across the planet in a blaze of fever. The premise that I just might be a booster for the airlines — well, it’s not fair, really, the lawyer doesn’t exactly know me.

“Flying,” I said, “is a necessary evil. If I could take the train everywhere, I would.”

I don’t watch the lawyer shows anymore, so I’m not exactly sure what happens next. I know I’ll get a copy of my deposition and I’ll probably read it over and think, “Oh, did I really say that?” Still, I stand by my potentially poorly observed and possibly pro-airline biased story: You’ve been in worse landings. And when a pilot puts a broken plane on the ground and everyone walks away, well, I’m all for that. Though I kind of want my New York dinner with Wendy Perrin. I feel like I got cheated out of that.

Photo credit: Pam Mandel. I took it while walking from the plane to the shuttle they’d brought to bring us to the terminal.

Video of the Day – IranAir 727 makes emergency landing


Just one week ago on October 18th, an IranAir Boeing 727 landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport without the use of its front landing gear, after the bay of the nose gear failed to open on approach.

The crew performed a landing without the nose gear on runway 29L and came to a stand still on both the main gear and the nose of the aircraft. The flight, traveling from Moscow to Iran, held 94 passengers and 19 crew members; none were injured in the landing.

Video of the landing has now surfaced on Youtube, demonstrating an incredibly skillful landing executed by the pilot and his crew.

Hats off to a job well done in a critical situation. If you’ve seen incredible rescue video online or witnessed an amazing safety performance on your travels, we want to see it. Leave us a link the comments below or submit your photos to our Flickr Pool. It could just be the next Photo/Video of the Day!

American Airlines flight makes emergency landing in Las Vegas

An American Airlines flight made and emergency landing in Las Vegas todayAn American Airlines Boeing 757 was forced to make an emergency landing at Las VegasMcCarran International Airport earlier today after pilots detected smoke in the cockpit.

AA Flight 431 was traveling from Miami to San Francisco, and was over Utah, when the crew diverted from their course to make the landing. They touched down at 11:10 AM Pacific time and were met by emergency crews who assisted with the evacuation of the plane. All 159 passengers and six crew, exited without incident or injury.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said that the emergency landing is standard procedure for pilots after smoke is detected on a plane, and that the crew was just acting properly to ensure the safety of all those on board.

At this time, it is unclear as to the cause of the smoke, but investigations by AA flight mechanics and the FAA are ongoing. In the meantime the company is working to re-book all the stranded passengers and get them back on their way to San Francisco.