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Where's Jonny? Care to dine with me? You would think that 11 years of daily food tasting for a living might put me off?......au contraire! Chomp away with me across 6 continents. Seduced like a bloodhound to the scent of good food, I anticipate the misty waft of steaming broths, the satisfying crunch of mudbugs and the vibrant aroma of freshly pulverised lemongrass. Buon appetito

Plane Crazy

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 22 August 2007 | Views [1889] | Comments [1]

I dreaded flying over the Andes Mountains. What would happen to the plane?  Ever seen the film, Alive?  It was however, not the mountain range that evoked fear amongst passengers on this flight......

The towering snow-capped Andes surrounding Santiago rise to over 18,000 feet.  A short flight to Buenos Aires that evening meant clearing them.

Cricking my neck to view their intimidating heights from the departure lounge, my mind began working overtime considering the illogical, the irrational, the imponderable and the unthinkable.

What if the plane failed to ascend rapidly enough?  Santiago is very flat.

An 8pm flight meant the mountains became invisible - what if the pilots altometer was broken?

How close would the plane fly to these jagged pinnacles of death? 

The heavily Spanish-accented pilot announced on the intercom that we would rise to 35,000 feet, some re-assurance, although unusual for a flight of only 2 hours.

The meal was shockingly bad.  Dry, white-breaded sandwich of processed ham was my main.  Dessert was a soggy, sweet, cracker concoction with a tasteless attempt at caramel. (which was actually dulce de leche) This is in business class by the way.

A nervous passenger (if you failed to guess) I asked to be moved after constant knocks from a child behind sent the ice cubes in my drink onto my crotch. 

The flight was generally smooth and the Captain spoke once more to confirm our time of landing.  This announcement occured as we began our descent. 

Something wasnt right though.  The airhostesses moved quickly up and down the aisle in an flustered, agitated manner.  They were discussing things amongst themselves.

The cabin lights began flickering.  I remained calm, although my palms began to sweat.  Knowing the engine system was separate to the electronics, I controlled my thumping heart beat and breathed in deeply.

A larger air hostess with pale skin began talking in Spanish on the intercom phone.  She chatted quickly and looked perplexed.

Some of the passengers at the front were looking noticeably worried.

A red light went on above the doorway to where the airhostess was sitting.  What was going on?

The plane, now in descent, was dropping at strange angles.  The nose began in a down position and then came to an up position several times.

Was something wrong with the plane?

The airhostess who had not left the phone began waving an emergency card over her now, hotly flushed face.

We came through the clouds and buildings became clear below.  With the lights still flickering like strobes we continued to descend and buildings became larger.

There was no announcement from the Captain or the airhostesses.  I looked at my watch.  We were on time.  It was only 5 more minutes till landing.

We were very low and I gripped my seat hard as the landing wheels made their loud clunk down.

Its all over I thought.  We are just about on the tarmac. 

As the purple lights of the airport guided us, I breathed in deeply once again............


The planes nose instantly shot skywards.  Our bodies pushed hard back into our seats.  UP UP UP we went...

What on earth was going on?

I gesticulated to the airhostess who was buckled into her seat.  Using the thumbs up I said, everything ok?  She didnt respond.

An English speaking businessman opposite me said they had aborted the landing and were trying again.

We circled very low to the ground.

As we apporoached a final time, the plane squared up and touched down.


No-one offered an explanation except the gentleman opposite me. 

Its most likely the Co-pilot training, he said, also looking a little unnerved by the whole incident.

The pilot never said a word.  However I shall be writing many in my letter to LAN airlines.    Bastardos.

Tags: planes trains & automobiles



Oh dear Jonny... another epic plane story for the world to quiver over :) Front page news to be sure... we all love scary airplane stories on the front page right?! Well I'd love to take this story to the nines and have good fun with it... but as a representative of the airline world, I'm gonna have to correct a few things I'm afraid. Well... most things. (So yeah I guess I have to fit the typical boring stereotype pilot here for a bit hehe - sorry.)

Ok first off... if the plane failed to ascend rapidly enough i.e. it had an engine failure or a pressurization problem for example, then the pilot would simply not attempt to cross the mountains. Believe it or not pilots don't drive airplanes into rocks on purpose... they kind of want to live too! So no worries there. If you couldn't make a minimum enroute altitude (called the MEA in the industry) then you simply would turn back and land in Santiago. All airlines also have what we call escape charts in the plane for flights over high terrain, so even if there was a problem, say, in the middle of the Andes that required a descent, it is guaranteed that the airplane could fly a descent profile that would clear all the obstacles by a minimum of 2000', corrected for wind and temperature. They wouldn't be allowed to use that airplane on that route if this minimum performance was not guaranteed.

As for the altimeter (not altometer sorry...)There are three independent altitude measuring devices on the aircraft. The two primary ones are automatically crosschecked by the computers at all times to make sure they agree. If they don't they alert the pilot to the problem, and he can compare them with the standby (3rd) altimeter to make sure he has correct information.

As for the altitude... 35,000' is not at all an unusual altitude for a two hour flight. We routinely fly up to our service ceiling of 41,000' for just a one hour flight. Fuel consumption is greatly reduced at altitude, so unless the flight is extremely short it pays to go up high. And remember that on short flights the aircraft is not carrying much fuel, so it is much lighter than usual. Meaning that it can actually climb a lot better.

As for the food... ermm... sorry. :)

Now as to your flickering light incident... that's a tough one for me to answer without more info. But here's some background info... First of all, no, actually the engines and the electrical system are directly linked. Each engine will have an electrical generator attached to it. If the engine turns, the generator turns and thus produces electricity. If one engine fails, the remaining engine can easily power the entire aircraft. In fact even if both engines fail, a ram air turbine can power essential electronics for flight. And there is also an auxillary engine called an APU in the tail of the aircraft that can power the whole airplane. Sometimes when switching between these power systems there are small electrical transients that cause some flickering of the lights. But that wouldn't explain continuous flickering like you described...

As for the red light over the door... could be two things. It could either be a call light, meaning that either the pilot or one of the other flight attendents was calling the flight attendent that you could see to pick up her intercom. Or it could be the emergency exit light, that lights up automatically when the landing gear is lowered.

As for your reported steep angle of descent... don't really now how you would know what a steep angle is from the cabin (sorry!!) But assuming the mountains are quite close to Buenos Aries, it's possible a fairly high altitude was maintained until shortly before landing, necessitating a more rapid descent than usual.

So I don't really know what was wrong with your lights. But I'm guessing it was some kind of problem with one of the generators that was putting transients on the electrical system. But as I mentioned before, these airplanes really have way more electrical generating ability than they need. So any one of the systems described above could, by itself, power the whole aircraft.

Ok and then your go-around... granted they don't happen very often for most passengers, and so they are considered somewhat unusual. But from an aviation point of view, go arounds are completely normal. They are considered normal operations, and not abnormal or emergency operations. They don't even require, in most cases, a report to be submitted to the company after they have been completed. There are many reasons for a go-around... for example the runway could be blocked because another aircraft was slow to vacate it after landing or perhaps Air Traffic Control vectored your aircraft in too close behind the preceeding one (a very common event in busy airspace such as London.) Or perhaps birds had been noticed in the landing vicinity. It could be caused by an unstable approach, whereby the pilot failed to be on glideslope, on runway track, configured and on speed by 1000' for whatever reason. In this event most airlines require a mandatory go-around. It could be caused by a windshear warning system on board the aircraft. Or by thunderstorms in the vicity. Or in some case it's just because the aircraft has reached it's minimum descent altitude and the pilot cannot see the runway due to fog or clouds. (Though it sounds like in your case the weather was good.) So in any event... go arounds are nothing to worry about. They are perfectly normal, and do not imply an emergency or an inexperienced pilot in any way. (Sorry to the guy sitting next to you...)

Oh and with regards to LAN Airlines... they are generally considered a very good airline indeed, and certainly one of the best in South America! I've flown with them many times and I've always had a great flight. The have an exceent safety record as well. Then again things can always go wrong I guess...!

And as for the cabin crew, it's sad to say but quite often they know even less than the passengers about aircraft, and what's going on. So their reaction to the situation might have been frantic for the same reasons as yours... they might not have known what was going on!

Hehe well hope that helps to clear things up!! Enough writing I'm going out drinking now!!!

Happy flying and tangoeing!


  Geoff Cattrall Aug 24, 2007 11:14 PM

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