Topic of the Week: Have You Experienced Evasive Action?


Lots of talk this week about the near-miss between a Spirit aircraft and a skydiving airplane. The Spirit pilot did everything right and descended quickly to get away from the other airplane. Have you ever been in that kind of situation before where an aircraft makes a quick descent or goes into a rapid climb to avoid an accident? What was it like?

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37 comments on “Topic of the Week: Have You Experienced Evasive Action?

  1. Yes! In the 90’s, Southwest out of Oakland. Took off and immediately started to descend. It happened so quick, my girlfriend grabbed my hand and the noticed FA’s in the front went into crash position. Soon after, Captain came on PA to advise a plane had also taken off from SFO and our flight was in its direct flight path and the tower told our flight to get out of the was ASAP. True to Southwest spirit, we all received complimentary drinks for the entire flight to Phoenix.

  2. On a United flight out of Chicago, the CRJ 700 I was in depressurized shortly after hitting our operating altitude. The cabin filled with fog but the oxygen masks did not deploy. The captain went into a steep dive to 8000′ and pressure returned. We were within visual sight of St. Louis but we returned to Chicago. After deplaning on the tarmac and getting our checked bags, we had to find a new way home.

  3. No, but did see one happen years ago at LAX between BA and TWA. Both their LHR-LAX flights arrive about the same time and BA landed on the north outer runway and was to wait on the taxiway between the two runways for TW to land. I was standing in the TWA employee parking lot and stopped to watch our flight land. BA decided to not wait and crossed on the active runway. TW wheels were just about to hit the ground when all of a sudden it just zoomed straight up to avoid crashing into BA. That was scary just watching it let alone how the people onboard must have felt.

  4. during takeoff roll at ORD for NRT, our 747 went to full thruster reverse & quickly braked to stop. Another plane landed a second later in front of us on intersecting runway. While taxiing back, captain said that it was much too close and that he had let ATC “know his feelings”.

  5. As a sidenote, In 2010 the NTSB revised their regulatory requirement that an operator involved in a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) advisory must report that event to the NTSB. Essentially, if a pilot is given information by the onboard TCAS system to take evasive action, that event must be reported to the NTSB. They are accumulating the data to see if there is a problem or trend.

    49 CFR 830.5
    (10) Airborne Collision and Avoidance System (ACAS) resolution advisories issued either:

    (i) When an aircraft is being operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan and compliance with the advisory is necessary to avert a substantial risk of collision between two or more aircraft; or

    (ii) To an aircraft operating in class A airspace.

  6. I was on an AA 757 from LAX-DFW in 2009 that had a pressurization issue. We were cruising at 39,000 over West Texas when the masks came out and we went into a rapid descent. People remained calm, but what was scarry was that the plane kept yawing from left to right. The pilot later told us that was to help them dip off speed and remain in control. He got us down to 23,000 in under 3 minutes and we continued to Dallas, landing about an hour later.

    1. 23,000? Generally when there is a pressurization issue they get to below 10,000 feet.. (Modern Aircraft are pressurized to the equivalent of 8,000 feet, with the exception of the 787 which is pressurized to 6,000 feet.)

      Although, I’m surprised they continued onto DFW.

      1. We were told it wasn’t a loss of pressure, but a failure of the primary and secondary systems, and the monual backup was slow to respond.

      2. The pilot came on after we leveled off and said the primary and secondary pressurization systems failed and the manual 3rd backup was slow to catch up. I double checked on flightaware after we landed to be sure.

        1. Interesting. That means you were cruising at 23,000 feet without backup oxygen, since the canisters that provide O2 for passengers only last a few minutes, thus why the standard procedure is to descend when that happens… Must’ve been odd flying for another hour with the masks out..

  7. Northwest airbus landing in MSP in 2004. We touch down when the pilot sees a small plane cross the runway and hit the gas to climb. It was more a surprise to be at that angle than it was scary. We didn’t know what happened until after. The pilot circled and we got back in the pattern to land.

  8. Years ago on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg. Well into the approach when the crew puts the throttles right up to the stops and we do our impression of a combat break. Captain followed the rules – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate and after we had established new approach advised us that a helicopter had decided to share the same piece of sky that we were using at the time. Lots of frightened passengers. Closest I’ve ever come to performing aerobatics in a commercial aircraft.

  9. I was on a flight a year and a half ago which performed a go around on short final when the previous aircraft stopped on the runway. It was the fastest ascent I’ve ever felt!

  10. Yes, I was on a United flight on final approach into SFO and just as we reached the threshold the pilot shot the plane what felt like straight up in the air. It was more than just a missed approach. Turns out we were about to land on top of a small plane also on final approach. Pretty unnerving, but thankful for a good pilot who knew what to do.

  11. Yep, in the early 2000s on a UA DEN-IAD on a 777 we had a rapid TCAS-commanded descent while on approach to IAD. Channel 9 was on, and ATC had turned a plane into our path. The captain first roasted the controller after the controller stupidly asked what we were doing and then the captain came on the intercom and apologized for the maneuver while still being pretty hot at ATC. It was pretty entertaining for this geek.

  12. Over the past 5 years have had to take evasive action 3 times
    on flights landing at Chicago ORD…
    Upon landing the wheels touched and then quick
    take off banking to the right and at high rate of speed a regular
    roller coaster ride. Captain advised plane that landed in front
    of us ” Stopped Short” thus leaving part of the plane on the Run Way.
    Aviation friends say this happens quit a bit at large airports where
    planes “stop short” leaving tail end on Runway.

  13. Yes. The boss of the company I worked for in the 80s had a King Air and found reasons to use it. He always hired a commercial pilot in addition to himself. We usually couldnt tell who was in which seat. We flew to msp to check out software several times. Once, they suddenly made a rapid climb and gave us the explanation that another plane was on a collision course and they were directed to climb. As I recall we were over Wisconsin and not near an airport at the time.

  14. DL 757 ATL – LGA. Final approach, made the left over Shea/Citi and was a minute or two from landing when we powered way up and banked hard to the right. I was on the right side of the plane and saw an AA MD80 take off perpendicular to us. Shot out right under us. Am sure it wasn’t that close but looked crazy. As we went back around the pilot said they hadn’t cleared the runway in time. Freaky.

  15. It wasn’t evasive action, but I was on a USAir DC9 on a takeoff roll. (Probably on a PIT-BGM flight but I’m not sure.) We had already released the brakes and were going at a pretty good speed when the pilot braked and we turned off the runway at a pretty good clip. (This was before WN got too far outside of the south, so no one was used to such fancy driving.)

    Apparently the rear emergency exit door showed that it was open. Instead of deplaning USAir just brought the mechanic onboard and he walked up and down the aisle two or three times with a replacement part in his hand..

  16. Last week in class B MSP airspace, We were in a Pipper Warrior, and ATC missed the a plane been towed taken off right in front of us.

  17. Oct. 1978, EA B727-225, MIA-DCA, on short final for runway 18 (now 19), between 14th Street bridge and Gravelly Point. Departing private jet taxied into position for departure on 18, at that moment. Gear up, and around we went, initially at a very steep rate of ascent. There were a few shrieks from some passengers, but most remained very calm. As were cricled to get in sequence again, the Captain explained the situation. He also added that he had not received his “piggyback flight certification.” Those were different times, that I sure do miss. I greatly miss Eastern, as well!

  18. Late ’90’s, ATAL-1011 into mco. Normal landing, over chevrons, then full thrust starboard. Pilot apologized for the quick maneuver, blaming “the damned blind puddlejumper” that was landing underneath us. This was the most g’s I’ve ever ecperienced.

  19. Closest I’ve come was a missed approach at ORD on an AA MD-80 a few years ago. I could tell from the landmarks that we were only a few miles from the airport, but we shot straight up and banked to the right, before heading out over Lake Michigan and trying again. I never did find out what happened, as the captain didn’t offer up any explanation. Not sure if it was a garden variety missed approach, or if it was something more serious. The maneuver itself wasn’t that scary, but I could see several passengers were unnerved, since there was no communication about what happened.

  20. I’ve never experienced evasive action in a commercial airliner, but have taken evasive action several times flying GA. Closest call was flying through a pass under a cloud deck and having opposite direction traffic at the same altitude. I don’t think they ever saw me as I passed under them after a hard push.

    I’ve caused TCAS RAs several times flying in the Bay Area even though both I and the commercial airliner were under ATC control, had each other visually and were maintaining legal separation. The flight path out of Palo Alto to the east goes under the Oakland approach, and a climbing plane and a descending plane is enough to trigger a climb RA even though the Oakland traffic will be long gone before I can get to their position/altitude. After a brief climb, the RA clears and the airliners continue the approach.

  21. I was on a UA777 flying into IAD. Seconds before landing, the plane made an abrupt upward turn. A few minutes later the captian came on and announced that there was a runway incursion from another jet, and they would need to circle around, we landed safely. I was very pleased with how the situation was handled by the flight deck, and totally impressed with the way the B777 took off so quickly in midair!

  22. Two incidents I experienced during mid 1990’s. First was a USAirways flight from BUF to PIT on a 737. B I was Chairman Preferred at the time and enjoying a first class upgrade. Sitting next to me was a woman flying for the first time and quite nervous. Its a short flight but we hit some moderate turbulence which really shook her up. She grabbed my hand then asked if it was OK. That seemed to comforting to her. About 15 minutes later she said she felt better and let go. Not 5 minutes past and we started our approach. The obvious changes to engine pitch and a nose down attitude resulted in hand holding once again. I explained what was happening and what to expect. At about 50 feet altitude suddenly the engines went full throttle and we started a steep climb followed by several right turns. I felt my hand being crushed and turned to look at my new friend who was about to become hysterical. Being the class clown I exclaimed “wrong airport, looks liked they goofed up again” this seemed to be reassuring to her. In a few moments the pilot advised a ground crew towing a plane was supposed to hold before crossing our runway but kept going directly in front of us. We did a quick low level go around and landed.

    The second time during the late 1990’s on a Delta 1011 from Augusta to ATL. It was a beautiful evening with clear skies. Take off was I eventful during the first 3-4 minutes then we made a series of maneuvers, first diving, then climbing steeply followed by a series of sharp turns. After 10 minutes the pilot explained a small private prop left moments before us with ATC instructions to turn left and climb out. We were to turn right and climb out. Our pilot made it very clear “the idiot driving the single engine prop didn’t know left from right from left and had turned right directly into our flight path”. Our pilot further commented that the other pilot had surely experienced a wake up call as this giant 1011 blasted by close enough to create strong man made turbulence.

  23. A *long* time ago, I was an Air Force ROTC cadet doing a turn at the controls of a C-54 (military DC-4) in a restricted military space over the Pacific near Oxnard, CA. The Major in the left seat turned control over to me and took his hands off the stick. A couple of minutes later, a single-engine Cessna flew across our path, not very far from us. I instinctively pushed the stick forward and turned hard left. The Major told me I’d done the right thing and that he had been about to do the same maneuver. He then reported the incident to ATC in very emphatic terms while I dealt with my adrenaline rush.

  24. I don’t recall any TCAS type events, but I’ve been a passenger in a few go arounds.

    My first (that I recall) was a United 757 flying MCO-IAD. The stated reason was due to a vehicle on the runway. Interesting thing was that Channel 9 was switched off as soon as we contacted the tower on our second approach. I’m thinking that the pilot had some choice words for the controller that he didn’t want us to hear.

    I believe I’ve had two at SFO. One was on a Delta 767-400 flying HNL-SFO. This one was caused by a passenger in the lavatory. The other, that I’m less certain about, was on United, I believe due to an unstable approach.

    My most recent was last month on a Virgin America A320 flying SFO-SAN. We were high and unstable on the approach, so the pilot elected to try again.

    The experience of a go-around is more unexpected than scary. Suddenly the engines spool up, the flaps retract, the plane accelerates and begins to climb, and small children start crying.

  25. One go-round at PHL in 1986: was about to land in rain and a very low ceiling, as we broke through the clouds we suddenly did a very steep climb and turned. Pilot let us know we had to go around because there was another plane still on the runway.

    Had to re-do a takeoff, it was a few years ago but I can’t recall where, I think at GSP, we started to taxi and very shortly thereafter stopped and pulled off the runway. Pilot says another plane was crossing the runway and hadn’t cleared yet.

  26. Cant’ remember much about the last landing I had but funny how I can’t ever seem to forget one “missed approach” into IAD a on clear and starry night.

    Sorry, pilot friends, ’cause it probably had nothing to do with the pilot, but boy, we sure can come up with some amazing ideas of what might have happened that one time, that once in what, thousands and thousands of landings?

    Good luck. Keep up the wonderful work!

  27. Had about 3 aborted landings (SFO/KLM, LHR/KLM, BA/BRU) and one aborted take off (FRA/KLM – engine fault indicator). But only one true near miss: La Guardia to St. Louis. I was upgraded and sat in 1A. I was looking out the left window as we started accelerating to take off on Runway 4. No sooner had we started to accelerate when we hit the brakes. Hard. As we did so I saw a Canada Air CRJ landing on Runway 13. After he was gone we started our take-off again.

    When we landed the captain was at his door saying goodbye to the passengers. I said: “Good thing you were paying attention to the left when we took off”. He said “Yeah, someone messed up big time. But that is why we are here”.

    His swift action that day saved a lot of lives, mine included.

  28. About 4 years ago we were on final approach to land in San Diego.
    Just as we thought we would land the pilot suddenly pulled up.
    came on the PA and sounded made complaining an aircraft was on the runway.
    yhst was scarry since wheels were down and we were over downtown San Diego and just about at the runway!

  29. So, when I saw the topic of the post I didn’t think it applied to me, but after reading the responses there was one trip on UA OAK-ORD in the late ’90’s that might have been an instance: lining up for final approach while I was sitting in F/C, we were about to land when we suddenly pulled up at a substantial pace and Ch 9 went dark for a few seconds. The pilot came on the intercom a bit later as we were rejoining the pattern and said that the crosswinds exceeded our maximums; althewhile other planes were landing; Ch 9 was turned back on and no other planes were making a note of this, although some were commenting on a popular RJ operator “messing up the pattern.” My connection at ORD was short and I was in the front cabin, so I didn’t want to press the issue, but as I was passing the flight deck crew as I was leaving the plane, I mentioned to the First Officer, “Crosswnds, aye?” which seemed to put him on his back foot for a bit as he nodded.

  30. Yes. It can be an interesting ride and is yet *ANOTHER* reason to keep that seat belt ON, unless there is some specif reason to remove it for a moment. That comfortable ‘living room in the sky’ is still moving at ~~500 MPH, 5-8 miles above the earth. Sometimes, stuff happens, so please keep your belt on. I’ve had the “E-Ticket” ride a couple of times. There is no warning and no announcement. When the pilots recognize a serious threat, they WILL climb, dive or turn abruptly – and without regard for cabin activities to avoid the threat. The why is rather simple: A few bumps and bruises is always a better choice than is a collision. And, at 200 MPH (or far more) for both aircraft – a closure rate of 400 MPH to 1000 MPH, there are no ‘light touches.’ Any ‘touch’ is going to kill a lot of people. Ever wonder why the pilots are REQUIRED to keep some degree of restraint on – at ALL times. We should as well. Unless I’m going someplace, the facilities, for a snack or, if on a very ling flight, perhaps a brief walk, I keep my belt on. During both of my “E-Ticket” evasive action rides, some were injured. I stayed in my seat, got a lap fully of lunch and beverages, but was not injured. A loosely fastened seat belt is not uncomfortable and certainly worth wearing.

  31. Hey Cranky: I thought the following blog post re Asiana pilots would be of great interest.

    Subject: the lowdown on Korean pilots After I retired from UAL as a Standards Captain on the 400, I got a job as a simulator instructor working for Alteon (a Boeing subsidiary) at Asiana. When I first got there, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting skills shown by most of the pilots. It is not a normal situation with normal progression from new hire, right seat, left seat taking a decade or two. One big difference is that ex-military pilots are given super-seniority and progress to the left seat much faster. Compared to the US, they also upgrade fairly rapidly because of the phenomenal growth by all Asian air carriers. By the way, after about six months at Asiana, I was moved over to KAL and found them to be identical. The only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes. I worked in Korea for 5 long years and although I found most of the people to be very pleasant, it?s a minefield of a work environment … for them and for us expats. One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I don?t think this was officially sanctioned by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for. For example; I used to open an aft cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO and I would brief them on it during the briefing. This was on the B-737 NG. Many of the new captains were coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being inhibited at 80 kts. Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all ?got it? and continued the takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out; I figured it was an overall PLUS for the training program. We expat instructors were forced upon them after the amount of fatal accidents (most of the them totally avoidable) over a decade began to be noticed by the outside world. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA, Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. They hired Boeing and Airbus to staff the training centers. KAL has one center and Asiana has another. When I was there (2003-2008) we had about 60 expats conducting training KAL and about 40 at Asiana. Most instructors were from the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand with a few stuffed in from Europe and Asia. Boeing also operated training centers in Singapore and China so they did hire some instructors from there. This solution has only been partially successful but still faces ingrained resistance from the Koreans. I lost track of the number of highly qualified instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce ?normal? standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 knot crosswind and the weather CAVU. I am not kidding when I tell you that requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts … with good reason. Like this SFO Asiana crew, it didn?t? compute that you needed to be a 1000? AGL at 3 miles and your sink rate should be 600-800 Ft/Min. After 5 years, they finally nailed me. I still had to sign my name to their training and sometimes if I just couldn?t pass someone on a check, I had no choice but to fail them. I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and it turned out he was the a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home that KAL was not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair Captain Brown was.

    Any of you Boeing glass-cockpit guys will know what I mean when I describe these events. I gave them a VOR approach with an 15 mile arc from the IAF. By the way, KAL dictated the profiles for all sessions and we just administered them. This captain requested two turns in holding at the IAF to get set up for the approach. When he finally got his nerve up, he requested ?Radar Vectors? to final. He could have just said he was ready for the approach and I would have cleared him to the IAF and then ?cleared for the approach? and he could have selected ?Exit Hold? and been on his way. He was already in LNAV/VNAV PATH. So, I gave him vectors to final with a 30 degree intercept. Each time he failed to ?extend the FAF? so he couldn?t understand why it would not intercept the LNAV magenta line when he punched LNAV and VNAV. He made three approaches and three missed approaches before he figured out that his active waypoint was ?Hold at XYZ.? Every time he punched LNAV, it would try to go back to the IAF … just like it was supposed to do. Since it was a check, I was not allowed (by their own rules) to offer him any help. That was just one of about half dozen major errors I documented in his UNSAT paperwork. He also failed to put in ANY aileron on takeoff with a 30-knot direct crosswind (again, the weather was dictated by KAL). This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken [to teach third world pilots basic flying]. They are already required to hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the USA) who flew C-141s in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to start a pilots union and when they tried to enforce some sort of duty rigs on international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!
    Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning. so they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM, never-challenge-authority still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just can?t change 3000 years of culture. The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. It?s actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are OK. I guess they don?t trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they don?t have the kids who grew up flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if they had to hand fly the airplane. It was a shock! Finally, I?ll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends. They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the norm. This is a worldwide problem involving automation and the auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. In accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged at 250 feet, just after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Not even one minute. Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?) below 800? after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed using the autothrottle. Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real ?flight time? or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, it?s the same only they get more inflated logbooks. So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean Captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVU weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck.

  32. I was on a National Airlines (N7, with the rainbow “N”) flight departing out of LAS, when we suddenly found ourselves banking damn near 90 degrees. Seriously, it was like I was looking straight at the ground out my window. I remember everybody “Whoa-ing” at the same time. Never did find out why this happened. the only thing we heard from our captain was “Whoops!’.

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