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Guest Peter Sidoli

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While I have plenty of bad customer service experiences, I have never really had a scary experience - where I was physically afraid - on a commercial flight. This is pretty amazing because I have flown almost a million miles in the last 11 years or so. Sure, I've had a few bumps here and there but nothing really bad. In terms of heart-pumping flights, the one that I remember most was more a result of time and place than anything else.I flew to Phoenix from Chicago O'Hare the second or third day the US airports re-opened after 9/11. Everybody was a little jittery and after we pushed back, taxi'd towards the runway, past the runway to a pad. We sat and sat and sat...eventually the pilot came on to tell us that a jet on approach to O'Hare had lost communication, that the airport was closed, and that fighters were being scrambled to intercept the silent aircraft. In the end, it turned out that the aircraft had simply lost its radio, fighters escorted the aircraft to O'Hare and the airport re-opened about 45 minutes later. Still, given what everybody had just gone through with 9/11, we all thought the worst and being stuck on an airplane then was very hard.I have had more "scary" flying experiences as a private pilot. The one that got my heart racing happened on approach to KPWK (Palwaukee Airport in Wheeling, Illinois). I was IFR and had just been vectored around O'Hare approaching the airport from the west. The ceilings were ~4000 overcast. I had just come under the layer and it was raining. I was descending to 2400, preparing for my approach. ATC did not warn me of traffic but I caught sight of a Mooney coming off of Runway 16, turn and climb directly towards me. When you go through pilot training, you're told that you should be worried about a mid-air if the traffic you're looking at does not appear to be moving. Very quickly, I realized that the Mooney did not appear to be moving, just getting larger. I do not think the Mooney sees me. I am IFR. I am radar contact. ATC is not telling me anything about this Mooney and this is happening too fast for me to ask ATC for advice. So, I jam in the throttle and start climbing. The Mooney flies under me with only a hundred feet or so of separation. They were close enough that I could see the two people in the front seat were not looking at me but were leaning over, looking at something on the ground. While I am still trying to get my heart out of my throat, ATC asks me to "expedite my descent"! Needless to say, I gave him an earful. It turns out that he didn't see the Mooney. Either the pilot had not turned on his Mode C or it was broken. Bob

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Seeing a line of firetrucks and ambulances pacing the aircraft I'm in on landing, then being rushed out of it by panicky flight attendants speaking a language I don't understand onto a ramp that's covered in liquid despite the surrounding area being bone dry and those firetrucks not having acted.At which point I came to realise that it must be Jet-A I'm standing in, which was later confirmed by someone in our group who did speak Russian.He also told us the aircraft had developed a major fuel leak causing the diversion, which led to the entire group being placed under lock and key with armed guards in front of the doors for 20 hours until another aircraft could be found to take us on. 20 hours in a waiting room with a tiled floor with 3 chairs and 2 toilets for 50 people with no food or drink is no pleasure.

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taking off from Pittsburg, PAs airport during a thunderstorm with lightning striking the ground about 50 feet from our aircraft (It was a MD-80 I think) just as we were getting airborne. that was.... interesting.

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I used to work as a field trainer, deploying Unix and NT systems and training staff how to use the applications installed on the servers. Between trips, I'd either stay with family on the West Coast or near my office on the East Coast. After one trip in '94, I went home to my parents in California for a few days, and told them "don't worry about the phone ringing for me--in my line of work, you can't get called into the office". One morning, at 7AM, the phone rings and my boss says "We need you in Michigan by tonight"Flash forward to twelve hours later, after a long O'Hare connection, with my puddle jumper on approach into some little town in upper Michigan. Waiting at the airport was my backup team member, already on-site, and he was going to drive me to the hotel.We made our approach, and all I could see was a blanket of low clouds. We went into the soup, and after a few moments we broke out, then the pilot aborted and went around. He could not get a good fix on the runway. We did this twice more, each time going lower, and each time aborting.The pilot then raised his concern--the entire state had been overrun with the soup, and we didn't have enough fuel to return to O'Hare, so he was commited to making the next approach and landing. He said the issue was he was breaking out of the soup too close to the runway, and unable to line up on approach.The last try, we went in very low--so low in fact, I could see pine trees passing by, just shy of our altitude. The pilot was able to break out of the soup some miles ahead of the runway, and we landed literally on fumes. We spent more than an hour on all of these attempted approaches.My teammate, waiting on the ground all this time, told me an audience was gathering as we kept making our aborted approaches. He said the aircraft was so low on the last approach, all he saw was the landing light IN the trees for several minutes before we arrived.We were ferrying another pilot home amongst our fellow passengers. He got off the aircraft, dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. That told me all I needed to know.-John

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My worst was taking off from knoxville (tys) and climbing into solid ifr conditions in a Beech Debonair. Levelled off over the hostile mountains North of the city in solid imc at 8000 ft. As soon as leveling off-set my autopilot altitude hold and power settings. The prop immediately oversped by 1000 rpm and the altimeter started jumping +-1000 ft. either direction. (The hostile terrain was only a couple thousand ft. below). Since it was on autopilot, the plane started going into increasingly big pitch excursions as it tried to keep the altitude level.I disengaged the autopilot, pulled the power all the way back,"averaged" my altitude and called atc and let them know the problem. I then switched to my handheld gps altitude page and used the info for that for my altitude (I knew it usually came out about 90 low-so I levelled off 90 ft. above what it read)-I also asked atc to tell me if my transponder altitude varied by 200 ft. from my assigned altitude. I then coaxed then engine back-it took several times but I got the prop to settle down at 22" 2200 rpm. I knew it was vfr about 45 minutes ahead and I was already 1/2 way over the mountain part so I continued monitoring the gps readout with atc backup and averaging what the alitmeter was reading between its 1000' excursions to stay at altitude.Using the handheld gps primarily atc never had to call me once! I enventually flew out of ifr conditions and made it back to my home base for repairs.Problem was water/pin sized hole in a tube of the static system-and the prop problem wasn't figured out by the shops till 1 more time of overspeed on later flight-turned out to be a micro sized crack in a part of the prop mechanism.http://mywebpages.comcast.net/geofa/pages/rxp-pilot.jpg

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>At which point I came to realise that it must be Jet-A I'm>standing in, which was later confirmed by someone in our group>who did speak Russian.>He also told us the aircraft had developed a major fuel leak>causing the diversion, which led to the entire group being>placed under lock and key with armed guards in front of the>doors for 20 hours until another aircraft could be found to>take us on. >20 hours in a waiting room with a tiled floor with 3 chairs>and 2 toilets for 50 people with no food or drink is no>pleasure.If the floor was tiled...and there were any chairs...and more than one (working) toilet...and you were in Russia...then you were in the VIP lounge! Whaddya complaining about? ;-)RegardsBob ScottATP IMEL Gulfstream II-III-IV-V L-300Santiago de Chile

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Worst: Dual pitot-static system failure in a C-141B in the weather in a heavily mountainous area in Korea. Lost all three altitude and airspeed indicators as a result. Flew known pitch and power settings in a climb away from the formations of towering cumulogranite, and headed for the Sea of Japan where the wx was reported to be about 5000 ft overcast. Descended over the water using INS groundspeed to estimate airspeed and depressurized the cabin in order to use the cabin altimeter on the FE's panel as a crude altimeter. Broke out of the weather over the water, flew VFR to Yokota AB in Japan.Turned out that water had gotten into the lines while the plane was on the ground in a driving rainstorm before we departed, and the water froze and blocked the lines.Second worst: Was sucked up by a powerful updraft into a thunderstorm cell while thermalling at what appeared to be a safe distance in a SGS 1-26 sailplane. With the sailplane diving at Vne I still had a 3000 fpm climb. Without an attitude indicator, disoriented in a CB cell, I intentionally entered an accelerated stall, kicked full rudder, and spinned the bird as the only sure way down. Spent probably 3-4 minutes trapped and completely disoriented in the updraft. I was 17 years old at the time.Third worst: Near the halfway point between Pago Pago, American Samoa and Honolulu (in a C-141B again) we got a fuel filter bypass light. Fuel heat didn't fix it (filter bypass is usually caused by ice forming in the fuel lines). Over the course of the next hour three of the four engine filter bypass lights came on, indicating that the fuel filters were clogging and probably contaminated. Sucked up the seat cushion for the next 4 hours to Hawaii. The one engine that did not have a bypass light was later determined to have a faulty differential pressure switch, and should have been showing filter bypass as well. All four fuel filters were close to being completely clogged from a load of fuel contaminated by a dry-rotted fuel hose that had just been installed on the fuel truck at Pago Pago.We deprived the sharks of a nice meal, but not by much.CheersBob ScottATP IMEL Gulfstream II-III-IV-V L-300Santiago de Chile

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>>We made our approach, and all I could see was a blanket of low>clouds. We went into the soup, and after a few moments we>broke out, then the pilot aborted and went around. He could>not get a good fix on the runway. We did this twice more,>each time going lower, and each time aborting.>>The pilot then raised his concern--the entire state had been>overrun with the soup, and we didn't have enough fuel to>return to O'Hare, so he was commited to making the next>approach and landing. He said the issue was he was breaking>out of the soup too close to the runway, and unable to line up>on approach.>>The last try, we went in very low--so low in fact, I could see>pine trees passing by, just shy of our altitude. The pilot>was able to break out of the soup some miles ahead of the>runway, and we landed literally on fumes. We spent more than>an hour on all of these attempted approaches.>>>-JohnOf all the stories so far, this is probably the worst. If I read you right, your crew built themselves and 19 unsuspecting passengers into a box where they had to land at an airport that was below minimums without any possible alternate. Inexcusable. You do realize you used up one of your 9 lives that night, right?

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A few years ago, departing Nashville, I was in the right seat letting my copilot fly the "dead" leg return to CLT when we had what I refer to as "an un-commanded right engine shutdown". It was a bit after 10PM central time as we were climbing routinely through 14,000 feet on our way to FL210 for the return leg to CLT. Suddenly there was a large bang from the right engine and the airplane rolled slightly to the right while the left-seat flying copilot countered the yaw and roll as he lowered the nose. Flames started pouring out of the engine stacks, extending a good 10 feet past the exhaust stacks and licking up over the inboard section of the wing between the nacelle and the fuselage.I got on the radio and declared an emergency to the Memphis center controller and we advised our intention to return to Nashville since it was directly behind us only 14 miles distant or so. Meanwhile the flames continued to pour from the stacks while we went through the engine shutdown procedure. The prop had feathered itself, so it was merely a formality to go through the motions of completing the shutdown (confirming that you are shutting down the CORRECT engine!) by putting the condition lever into fuel cutoff, feathering the prop, and closing the firewall shutoff valve. For 30 seconds that felt like a lifetime the engine burned, then finally went out (our aircraft was not equipped with fire bottles).We completed our 180 degree left turn and the controller at Nashville must have turned the runway lights up to full intensity because there in front of us in the dark was the most beautiful row of approach and runway lights I've ever seen!In fact, we had climbed so steeply to get up to altitude and catch the roaring tailwind that when we turned around we were looking over the nose at a pretty steep descent to get back down to Nashville. I'll take too much altitude over not enough any day!Proceeding via the engine secure checklist we turned off the affected engine auto-ignition, generator, and the auto-feather switch. Verified we had closed the right-side firewall shutoff valve (to prevent pumping more fuel into the nacelle). With a bunch of altitude to lose we had the operative engine back at flight idle, so there was almost zero asymmetric thrust or drag. In fact, we had to execute a few gentle S-turns on long final to bleed off more altitude.During emergency procedures it is even more critical to follow the appropriate checklists since in the heat of the moment you can forget even the most basic things (i.e.: landing gear!). We had time to accomplish both the engine shutdown checklist and the single-engine approach and landing checklists line by line. They are there for a reason; use them!Landing.Once landing was assured full flaps were selected and we made an uneventful single-engine landing while the fire-trucks followed us down the runway.Pratt & Whitney later determined the engine malfunction was caused by fatigue on the compressor turbine disk which fractured and caused the catastrophic engine failure. The fire was actually harmless engine oil from the cracked case leaking into the exhaust section, catching fire and getting shot out of the stacks. By all accounts the PT6A engine is one of the most reliable engines ever built, and statistically I should be able to fly 5 more careers worth of flying and not experience another catastrophic engine failure (I hope!).BeachAV8R

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>If the floor was tiled...and there were any>chairs...and more than one (working) toilet...and you were in>Russia...then you were in the VIP lounge! Whaddya complaining>about? ;-)>Not being able to sneak out to take photos of the Su-15s scrambling a few hours after we landed...

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easyJet flight, Madrid Barajas to Berlin Schoenfeld. We hit some nasty t-storms just north of Madrid. Our A320 hit a downdraft, and we lost some altitude... Really quick. A couple of people who weren't wearing seatbelts flew into the air. Everyone screamed. I was sleeping, and it jogged ma awake, the seatbelt held me down but it hurt my abdomen. The F/O had to come on the intercom, and he assured us (while laughing no less) that we were ok, we just hit a little downdraft.At least it wasn't on landing.

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Not really scarey... TWA from Paris to JFK. Landing gear would not retract. We went back to CDG three times, each time they said it was "fixed". Last time, they said the 300 lb hydraulic arm had to be replaced. Wasted about six hours.Flying through Rome and/or Athens in the 80s on TWA (remember the hijackings?) as a teenager on my way to Cairo seeing armed police with automatic machine guns.

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Have had quite a few including engine failures and system failures which werent really scary.I was flying a Seneca five in very heavy rain like flying through a car wash low level.Climbed to 12000 feet and on trying to level found the elevator(stabilizer) and trim had jammed.I realised that somehow the intense water had got into the controls and frozen.I declared an emergency and descended through controlled airspace in a straight line using power until thankfully at around 4000 feet the ice melted and the controls came back.Flying in another twin as a safety pilot the pilot had fuelled the aircraft on a bad incline meaning that the the fuel wasnt balanced.We were heavy so on minimal fuel with reserves for the trip.Fog had been forecast from 7 am till 9am but didnt materealise until 10 am when the whole area went down under fog.We then had a fuel indicator failure which meant we were burning fuel from the wrong tank.When I realised this we tried to burn fuel from the other tank only to find the fuel lever had jammed on the one tank (later found a coin had fallen in the slot and jammed it.The pilot tried an approach with no joy at our destination and frozeI took control and asked a military base for a diversion and PAR.They said they were colour code red with overcast at 80 feet and 400 metres.I insisted on the PAR knowing we were going to run out of fuel and was given it to the ground.I was so relieved to see the runway lights. The clouds were sitting on the hanger roofs :-(Peter

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