19 Scariest Things That Have Ever Happened On Airplanes
Flying on an airplane might statistically be the safest way to travel, but that doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable experience for everyone. In fact, a 2017 survey found that nearly 32 million Americans have actually skipped out on taking a vacation just to avoid being on a plane — the fear of flying is real! Apparently all the scary airplane stories out there have had a real impact.
And, really, can you blame people? Being on an airplane means you have zero control over your fate, a concept that is scary enough for most people without considering all of the other factors that go into flying over 30,000 feet in the air. The idea of experiencing extreme turbulence is terrifying, and the idea of crashing? That’s just an absolute nightmare.
It doesn’t help that there are plenty of scary airplane stories out there that make the fear even more real. Planes might not crash every day, but scary stuff does happen. The good news? In all of these stories the plane landed safely and (some) people lived to tell the tale, proving that airplanes (and pilots!) can deal with a lot more than we may give them credit for.
Here are some of the scariest things that have ever happened on an airplane:
1. A woman got sucked out of the window.
In April 2018, passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight heading to Dallas had to pull a woman back into the plane as she was about to be literally sucked out the window. During the flight, something on the engine broke off and smacked into the window, breaking it. The sudden air-pressure change pulled the woman into the window pane, where she hung half-way outside the plane for a few minutes. Passengers panicked and thought they were going to crash, but the plane ended up landing safely. Sadly, the woman who got partially sucked out the window died from her injuries.
2. There was a gas leak that no crew members noticed.
In June 2017, a United Airlines flight to Venice was cancelled when a passenger noticed that fuel was pouring from a wing while the airline was getting ready to take off. Someone in a window seat told the crew about the leak, and the plane was forced to return to the gate. The Twitter user who tweeted out the video said, “How not one crew member saw this is beyond me. Thank god we were lookin’ [sic] out the window at take off.”
3. The airplane hit an alligator during landing.
Hitting something during landing can seriously mess up, well, the entire landing.
Reddit user Kflynn1337 has their own scary airplane story about just that:
“…It had been a nice, smooth, (more-or-less) trouble-free flight into Miami, everyone on the crew was saying what a change it made, even the landing was smooth and she was about to do the usual post-flight announcement… and at that point the front nose gear hit a 12-foot-long ‘gator on the runway.
“The front tires blew out, dumping the plane about a foot; as per training, the pilots slammed on the brakes, but by this point the ‘gator had achieved oneness with the front wheel, the brakes engaged hard, and the wheel assembly just sort of snapped off…
“Long story short, the plane skidded the last 100 yards or so on it’s nose. At which point, shaken and her brain sort of on auto-pilot, she said over the intercom: ‘Welcome to Florida! Mind where you step.’ The whole plane burst out laughing. At least everyone could laugh about it!”
4. The plane shook “like a washing machine.”
Turbulence is the worst, but sometimes it goes from just uncomfortable to genuinely scary. In 2017, an AirAsia flight experienced a “technical issue” about an hour and a half into the trip.
“Technical issues,” really?
AirAsia X flight D7237 took off just before 7:00 a.m. (AWST) on Sunday, bound for Kuala Lumpur, but suddenly experienced a “technical issue.” One passenger, Brenton Atkinson, said he heard an explosion, explaining how “essentially the engine seized up…that’s what they told us anyway. 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.” The plane had to turn back and make an emergency landing in Perth.
5. Everyone on the plane threw up.
In March 2018, a seriously rough storm hit the East Coast, cancelling almost all flights going in and out of the airports in the area. One flight didn’t get cancelled, though, and the turbulence was so bad that almost everyone on the entire plane vomited. The pilot’s report on the National Weather Service’s aviation center stated, “pretty much every one on the plane threw up.” They added that even the “pilots were on the verge of throwing up” during the landing. Maybe not one of the truly scary airplane stories out there, but definitely disgusting.
6. The plane’s computer malfunctioned.
A pilot navigating a Qantas flight from Singapore to Perth told the story of how the plane’s computer “went psycho” before he managed to save the lives of everyone on board. The Airbus A330’s auto-pilot malfunctioned not once, but twice, dropping the aircraft 690 feet in 23 seconds, and then dropping it again another 400 feet in 15 seconds. More than 100 passengers were injured. He said, “It’s the worst thing that can happen when you are in an airplane — when you are not in control.”
7. The side door was left open.
On a 2006 Jun Air Boeing 737-800 flight, a passenger noticed that one of the airplane doors had been left open… when they were already 10,000 feet in the air. Passengers heard a “windy sound” that officials later determined was in fact from a “gap in the door.” One passenger said the plane “flew kind of erratically,” which made him feel like something was wrong. Luckily, passengers only reported nausea and ear pain due to a slow loss of cabin pressure, and the plane landed safely.
8. A girl passed away mid-flight, then had to be buckled in a seat to land.
It’s bad enough to think about someone dying mid-flight, but imagining someone having taken their own life and then having to be buckled into a seat for landing makes it even more tragic.
Reddit user spitshoot wrote:
“Mid-twenty-year-old girl flying alone on an international flight goes to use the restroom. After a while, the line starts to build up as the passengers can only use one of the two washrooms at the back. After around 10 minutes of no responses, the flight attendant opens the door from the outside (they have a key for this) and walk in to find both the girl’s wrists cut…and [she] was dead.
“Before landing, they had to buckle her into one of the free seats. And yes, I asked this many times and it is true. You need to buckle [in] deceased passengers in case there is excess turbulence or any sudden movements upon landing.”
9. Hail shattered the windshield.
In June 2018, passengers were left terrified when an American Airlines plane was struck by a hailstorm that left the airplane severely damaged. The Airbus A319 was going from San Antonia, Texas, to Phoenix, Arizona, when it hit such a bad hail storm that the plane’s windshield shattered and the nose was damaged. Due to “virtually no forward visibility,” the plane was forced to divert to El Paso. Passengers were crying, panicking, and vomiting as they hoped to land safely.
10. The landing gear wasn’t working correctly.
Oh, you know, it’s just the main thing that you need to make contact with the ground at insane speeds coming down from the sky, no big deal.
Here’s a truly scary airplane story from Reddit user AcaciaWildwood:
“My sister is a FA and told me of her scariest flight: They were flying into an airport in California from Hawaii and during the pre-landing checks etc. it was discovered the landing gear wasn’t functioning in that it wouldn’t deploy/come down. After circling the airport to burn off fuel, fire and emergency personnel were put into place at the airport and the cabin secured – they began their descent.
Calling all mechanics!
“She was sitting in the jump seat and she said there was a fellow mechanic on-board within eyesight of her. He looked her directly in the eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, letting her know the situation was very dire. As they were coming down to land, she and the other FAs were in their seats, yelling at the passengers at the top of their lungs ‘BRACE – BRACE – BRACE – BRACE!!!’ while they were all in position for impact – said it was the one time she thought for sure she’d never see her son and husband again.
And then a miracle.
“Miraculously the landing gear deployed at the very last moment, saving them from having to land on the belly of the plane. Once they got all the passengers off (sent them down the slides in the middle of the runway surrounded by emergency personnel racing them away from the plane) and were back at the hotel, the last thing she wanted was to get back on a plane to go back home to Hawaii. She called her husband – also a FA for the same airline – and told him what had happened, said the Flight Crew were being told they could either stay overnight in the hotel and fly out the next day, or fly back to the island that night on a different plane. Her husband told her she needed to get back on the plane that night or she’d never have the ability to fly with confidence again. She did as he said and, this being over 9 years ago, he was right: she’s still a FA with the airline today.”
11. An engine started to fall off during the flight.
Not only did a 2015 Sky Airline flight from Chile deal with engine trouble during the flight, the troublesome engine literally started to fall apart during take off. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing when panels from the engine were torn loose as it sped along the runway. Passengers even captured video of the incident.
12. A snake actually appeared on a plane.
If you’re afraid of snakes, then being trapped on an airplane with one would certainly be a nightmare. On a 2016 Aeromexico flight leaving Mexico City, a snake actually dangled out of one of the aircraft’s overhead storage bins. A passenger got a video of the snake looking like it was falling out of the bin area. The snake, thought to be a venomous green viper, fell into a seating area and the pilot organized an emergency landing, at which point the reptile was secured.
13. A plane’s engine caught on fire mid-flight.
In 2014, a Transaero plane flying from Barcelona to Russia had an engine literally burst into flames shortly after takeoff. A passenger caught the moment on film when she noticed fire coming from the plane’s wing. She said the plane started to shake right after takeoff and that they had to make an emergency landing.
14. A psychic told everyone they were going to crash.
Even if you don’t believe in psychics, this must have been terrifying. Reddit user MysticCurse explained what happened:
“I will never forget my last flight from Minneapolis to Detroit in October 2009. For starters, we had a self-proclaimed psychic on board who informed everyone that ‘this plane is going to crash and we’re all going to die’ by screaming it at the top of her lungs as soon as we reached cruising altitude. We ended up having to move her to a private section of the plane to try to calm her down and ease the minds of the panicked passengers.
“Sure enough, we hit extreme, unreported turbulence as soon as beverages were passed out. Drinks were flying through the air, luggage hit a few of the overhead bins open and people were screaming and terrified (mostly due to the psychic in my opinion). A couple other flight attendants couldn’t help but crying. It was a horrible scene.
“After an eternity we reached Detroit. Of course the runways were iced over and we slid nearly sideways after touching down (again, everyone was screaming). I’m honestly surprised the plane didn’t flip over. When we landed everyone let out a roar of applause. Airport security boarded the plane and detained the ‘psychic.’ I was so shaken up that I quit as soon as we unloaded.”
15. A plane propeller broke off and hit a passenger.
“So, about halfway through my flight I heard a loud POP, [and] looked out my window at a bolt that flew off the [propeller] and broke through the outer pane.”
Pretty sure you never want to hear a loud “POP” while on a plane…
“People around me heard it and seemed nervous once they saw the source of the sound. 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 is pressurized. 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.”
He then goes on to explain that the pilot said the bolt “must have been struck by the prop…to launch it that hard at the window.”
16. A plane clipped a building.
In 2013, a British Airways plane going to London actually clipped its wing on a building as it was preparing for takeoff out of Johannesburg, South Africa. The plane was taxiing on the runway when its wing hit the building. Luckily no one was seriously injured. Still, imagine?!
17. A plane lost all electrical power.
Reddit user zscn described a terrifying scenario passengers didn’t even know was happening:
“Pilot of an Airbus 320 here. Flying into a high-elevation port in Asia, 23000 feet on descent, had a TOTAL loss of electrical power. All screens went dark including standby instruments and emergency lighting. To put this into perspective Airbus designed this aircraft with three electrical generators in addition to power supplied by batteries and the emergency generator. It is designed NEVER to be without electrical power even if BOTH the engines failed, you ran completely out of fuel, and the auxiliary power unit is inoperative. It’s a scenario pilots don’t even train for because its never suppose[d] to happen.”
Uhm, okay that’s horrifying.
“After a partial recovery of our screens it was followed by 12 consecutive warnings associated with different on board systems. We landed safely. Passengers didn’t notice a thing apart from the lights temporarily going out in the cabin.
“The car analogy would be you driving at 100 km/hr on a highway and suddenly all your windows are covered up, you lose your speedometer and all electrical systems, there’s no response from the brake or accelerator. But you can still feel the car going.”
18. Two passenger jets almost collided.
In July 2014, two passenger planes narrowly avoided colliding on the runway. The near-miss was caught on camera: a Boeing 767 from the Russian airline UTair was coming in to land on the runway in Barcelona while an Aerolines Argentineas Airbus A340 was slowly taxiing across the runway. The Boeing was forced to pull back into the air in order to avoid the crash.
19. A plane lost an engine.
Imagine losing an entire engine while flying? Reddit user nlderek explained:
“Although not a pilot, I was in the operations center of an airline as this happened… At almost exactly the midway point across the Pacific to Hawaii from LA a 757 lost an engine. With the winds and available fuel on-board it became a critical situation. The aircraft diverted to Hilo – but even then all calculations said it would come up short. We went as far as to begin activating the crash team and started the crash checklist (preparing the manifest and such). Somehow the pilots managed to conserve enough fuel to make it to Hilo. The passengers may have known there was an engine not working, but they surely had no clue how dire the situation was.”