scary plane landings

When a storm passes by, I often think of some of the scariest plane landings I’ve experienced. Landings can be nerve-wracking at times but landing in bad weather is absolutely nail-biting, and more so if you happen to be landing at an airport with a tricky runway! Here are some of the scariest plane landings I’ve had:

A scary landing at Kai Tak

I remember a landing once in the days when Hong Kong had its old Kai Tak airport (Kai Tak was the international airport of Hong Kong before the new airport opened on Chek Lap Kok, a man-made island, in July 1998).

kai tak airport
The old Hong Kong International Airport in Kai Tak. The site is now a cruise terminal. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It was during the monsoon and the plane was shuddering continuously and jerking left and right as cross-winds had the  plane in its grip. Kai Tak had one of the scariest runways in the world: the runway stuck out into the harbour like a lone finger with water on three sides. The approach into the airport was absolutely nerve-wracking as pilots had to perform almost acrobatic manoeuvres to negotiate mountains and Hong Kong’s skyscrapers to get to the runway.

scariest runways
One approach path into Kai Tak airport involved pilots having to maneuver around buildings! Image from flickr.

That day, bad weather didn’t make it easier. I was sitting at the window and had a blurred vision of the city lights through the heavy rain when I suddenly saw the runway beneath us. Seconds before the touchdown, a strong gale-force wind hit us from the right causing the plane to bank to the left. In a split-second, the plane was no longer perfectly aligned with the runway! I looked out and noticed the murky darkness of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, instead of the runway lights. Before we knew it, the plane’s engines were on full thrust and we were heading back up into the sky. The pilots had to make a steep bank to the left to avoid the buildings and surrounding mountains. I sat, frozen, and held my breath. I heard some screams and gasps but I didn’t dare look around. We circled around a few times before the pilot made a successful landing. I always wondered what the pilots were going through during that first hellish, aborted landing. Check out the landing below to get an idea of the harrowing landing I experienced.

Landing during a storm in Kuala Lumpur

It was a smooth 11-hour flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur until the plane embarked on the approach into Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

kuala lumpur international airport klia
An aerial view of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), with KLIA 2 in the foregound and KLIA 1 in the background.

As we gradually descended, I noticed towering, dark clouds. In the distance, I saw the occasional flashes of lightning. The pilot maneuvered the plane past the menacing clouds but as we entered the final approach, we descended into the clouds. The plane immediately started to shudder and we swerved left and right, occasionally dropping in an air pocket. The engines roared from time to time to stabilise the plane and maintain altitude. I couldn’t see a single thing as the clouds were thick and seemingly never-ending. During this whole time, the plane rocked about and shuddered continuously. The plane’s massive wings flapped about like a bird and I wondered how much they could take before… you know! I looked around and saw many tense, pale faces, with some people grasping each other’s hands. I focused on my breathing to remain calm.

Clouds in the tropics.

As we cleared the clouds, I saw that we were already very low but the rain was horrendous. We must’ve been not more than a hundred meters above the ground when the pilot aborted the landing. Both engines went into full thrust to lift us up, and back into the clouds we went! The violent rocking started again and I heard screams in the cabin. We continued in a holding pattern, circling around the airport, flying into and out of massive clouds. The flight attendants came around to help calm the passengers, some of whom had become ill.

After about 30 minutes, the pilot embarked on the second attempt to land. It wasn’t much smoother than the first attempt but this time we landed successfully. I felt drained and dizzy as I stepped off the plane. This was definitely one of the scariest landings I’ve ever experienced!

Three lighting strikes in a row!

I was on a flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and was feeling a bit anxious. In the previous few weeks, I’d experienced two lightning strikes while sitting in a plane! The first time was on a flight to Dubrovnik. We had just taken off from Amsterdam when the wing was struck by lightning! The pilot decided to return to Amsterdam Airport to check the damage.

The plane returned to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for an inspection. We disembarked and after a few hours, continued on our journey on a different plane.

The second time it happened, I’d just landed in Amsterdam. As the plane taxied to the terminal, a storm descended upon us, throwing us heaps of rain and howling winds. The pilot was instructed to wait before approaching the parking bay. As we stood there stationary, the wind and rain belted against the plane, causing it to shake and shudder. Suddenly, a bright light flashed through the cabin, followed by a loud growling sound. That was lightning strike number 2!

We waited as the rain and wind howled outside the plane.

As we neared Frankfurt, we entered a patch of thick clouds. I couldn’t help but think of the lightning strikes I’d experienced recently. The plane was bumped around by the wind and I clutched the armrest. We flew through the dark clouds when suddenly, what seemed like a bolt – quite literally a blinding blade of light – flashed through the cabin. In a split second, the cabin lit up like someone had turned on the floodlights! I always thought that a lightning ‘bolt’ was a figure of speech but this experience taught me otherwise! The plane shook violently but there was an eerie silence in the cabin. I think everyone was just stunned by what had just happened! In contrast to the scary approach and lightning strike, the landing was smooth! Though, I’ll never forget those three lightning strikes in a row!

Landing in Frankfurt on a stormy day.

If you have some harrowing landing stories to tell, you’re most welcome to share them below! Check out this Travel & Leisure article with a slideshow of scary runways.

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