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My belly landing experience on LOT Polish Airlines flight 016

By John Mageropoulos
March 26, 2014

LOT Polish Airlines Flight 16 was a passenger flight which made an emergency wheels up landing at Warsaw Chopin Airport, Poland, on 1 November 2011. All 231 aboard survived. The aircraft involved, a Boeing 767-300ER with registration SP-LPC, was operating as LOT Polish Airlines' scheduled international service from Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, USA, to Chopin. The preliminary report found that a hydraulic leak occurred shortly after takeoff, which resulted in a loss of all the hydraulic fluid that powered the primary landing gear system. It was classified as an aviation accident by State Commission on Aircraft Accidents Investigation in Poland. John Mageropoulos was a passenger and this is his first person account of his experience. - Suresh Atapattu/Article Editor

The trip started uneventfully – I left RSW for EWR on a United flight, but couldn’t check in for the EWR-WAW leg on LOT016 until arrival at EWR. We ended up waiting for a while as the LOT check in counter was closed. I expected to meet a colleague for that flight but he ended up finding an earlier flight and taking it.

SP-LPC at EWR on previous flights


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Photo © Carlos Borda



SP-LPC at EWR Landing at EWR in 2009


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Photo © Mariusz Siecinski



I found my seat (1A), pulled out a couple magazines, and put my carry on up top, containing my “proper” camera (Canon 7D, 24-105 f/4), iPad, laptop and other essentials. As is my habit, I kept my wallet, phone and passport in my pocket; despite the slight discomfort, I don’t like to have those off my person.

Aboard SP-LPC


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Photo © Radoslaw Idaszak



Some travelers have mentioned hearing a noise of some sort shortly after takeoff, but if I did, it did not register as unusual with me or anyone else around me.

According to the preliminary report, 2 mins, 20 secs after takeoff, the first indication of low pressure in the central hydraulic system, and a few seconds after that, the quantity of hydraulic fluid was at about 10% of normal.

Our flight path took us over the UK, Netherlands, and Germany then into Poland.
Wing view out of SP-LPC on a better flight


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Photo © Oleg V. Belyakov - AirTeamImages


I snapped some photos as the sun came up of the German and Polish countryside, then as we began our decent, put the 7D back in the overhead (1A had no seat in front of it to store a bag) and settled in for the landing.
Up until this time, we’d been given no indication of anything wrong, but a few minutes after the initial decent began, I noticed who I thought was a male flight attendant moving between the cockpit and the rear of the aircraft, he was very sweaty, though he did not seem panicked, but looked like he was on a mission.

For me, the first hint that something was not right was when I noticed us passing over the same factory near a river for the second, then third time. We had definitely descended, but then clearly had stopped and were circling. I mentioned this to the passenger sitting next to me.

After we speculated on why, the captain came over the loudspeaker with the announcement. To the best of my recollection, I do not recall the captain saying anything about the nature of the “difficulty” or anything related to the landing gear.

The announcement went something like this (in English after the Polish announcement): "Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing a technical difficulty. The crew will now prepare the cabin for an emergency landing. Please read the cards behind your seats...etc, etc.". He then said something to the effect of “pick your brace position which will be either with your head between your knees, or against the seat in front of you.”

The crew then went about very busily preparing the cabin (pulling curtains out, telling everyone to pack everything away, put shoes on, heels away, stow anything loose, etc). One male flight attendant kept running up to (and I think in to) the flight deck and was extremely sweaty.

The flight attendants then came around and gave us all our emergency landing procedure cards, and directed us to the section that showed an emergency landing on land, and said "not this one", pointing to the water landing section.
About 15 mins before we landed, the flight attendants asked me and the person traveling next to me to change seats with two Polish fellows, I presume to communicate better with them to open the doors once we landed. It was at this point that I tried to turn my phone on and got a signal, and I decided to try to send a text to my wife – trying to be somewhat matter of fact (“we have a technical problem on the plane and are preparing for an emergency landing”, but also bearing in mind that I might not have another chance at it if things went badly. Several other passengers around me did the same. After about 3-4 tries, it sent.

I started going over in my mind what I was going to do (unbuckle my seat belt, run to the door, not step on anybody, climb over the chairs if needed). I actually practiced unbuckling my seat belt a few dozen times, and tugged on the seat back in front of me to make sure I could pull myself up on it if needed.
We continued in this holding pattern (what seemed like a figure 8 pattern for a while, then some other turns) which lasted, to my memory, approximately 1hr and 10-15 minutes. About 5 minutes before we actually landed, the pilot came back on and said something to the effect of "we are now going in to land, it will be an emergency landing, assume the brace position".

I'd say about 1-2 mins before we actually touched down, the plane took what seemed like a steeper than usual dip down (enough to feel it in my gut, and elicit a few very minor gasps from some passengers), then pulled back up quickly. At this point I thought that meant landing gear problems and they were having one last go at trying to drop them using gravity.

As we came over the airport perimeter, I recall seeing emergency vehicles beside the runway and then thought "oh s**t, this is real". Somewhere around here the "brace, brace, brace" came over the speakers.

When the plane touched down, it was the smoothest "landing" I'd ever experienced...it was also the quietest with no engine noise or reverse thrust. At this point, there was still no indication that the landing gear had completely failed – it felt like we were just “rolling” down the runway, and would just turn for the gate, crisis averted.

Pictures on of the emergency landing sequence on Airliners.net.


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Photo © Robert Szymczak



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Photo © Damian Lesniak



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Photo © Jakub Kalinowski



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Photo © Pawel Guraj



We then slowed down and veered a few degrees to the right, which I took to mean that everything was fine and we were turning to the gates...it was at this point that passengers started applauding, but the FAs immediately told everyone to stop and quiet down. About 5 seconds later, a thick smoke was visible outside the windows, and then the loud high pitched "beep beep beep" started over the speakers. The FAs gave an instruction and someone, I think the fellow who took over my seat, opened the forward left door and the emergency slide deployed.

I took my BlackBerry out of my pants pocket and gripped it, then made my way to the forward left door, it was very orderly, and jumped out onto the slide. A lady in front of me had let go of her phone and it was going slowly down the slide in front of me, I caught it and handed it to her.

I could hear the engines whining and whirring, so I jogged a few steps away off the tarmac and onto the grass alongside runway 33, I turned back to face the plane, and took a few pictures with my Blackberry, then took some video as we walked, catching the firemen start spraying the number 2 engine, which had apparently caught fire.

I stopped and took a picture from my Blackberry that became my first addition to the Airliners.net database.First shot after evacuating the aircraft from the front left slide. Note the rear slide is practically horizontal, making it very difficult for passengers to get distance from the plane after evacuating.


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Photo © John Magero


Second image showing mostly calm evacuees walking away from the aircraft. One lady was knocked over.



In this picture below by Piotr Pasnicki, I can be seen at the bottom of the slide in a black jacket and blue jeans.


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Photo © Piotr Pasnicki



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Photo © Adam Myszkowski



Someone, I assume a safety marshal, then came running towards us and was shouting “get away from the plane, run, run”…so we ran across the grass separating the two runways near their intersection. I made a silly joke about checking for planes (as one would check for cars on a street) before crossing runway 29.

We were then boarded onto waiting buses and I managed to take a few more photos as we drove past the plane and towards the terminal. There were dozens of emergency responders (firemen, ambulances, police) and their vehicles lined up alongside the runway, just to the left-rear of the plane.
Taken from aboard the bus, showing the Police forming a perimeter around the aircraft.


View from the bus as we drove behind the plane, before turning back in front of it.


View from the bus as we drove behind the plane, before turning back in front of it.


view from the rear of the plane showing the foam laid down for us before landing. The left engine and the fuselage mostly ran through the foam, while the right engine skid directly on the asphalt.


Police line visible to the left and across the right. Ambulances also lined up, but luckily none were needed.


Police line visible to the left and across the right. Ambulances also lined up, but luckily none were needed.


Passengers can be seen in the reflection, calmly taking in the sight.


Line of foam running back to the end of the runway.


Rear of the plane as we passed alongside the plane on the way to the terminal. Horizontal rear slides visible.


Rear of the plane as we passed alongside the plane on the way to the terminal. Horizontal rear slides visible.


emergency crew alongside the foam covered plane.


emergency crew alongside the foam covered plane.



We spent the next while (7 hrs for me, longer for others, shorter for some) lining up with our passports (luckily, I keep mine in my front pocket when I travel, not in a bag) doing immigration, registering our locations, address, contact info, etc, and then waiting in a pair of lounge rooms to be cleared.
We hung out in lounge area on the ground floor of the airport with two rooms and a hallway separating them. I managed to call my wife to tell her I was fine (about 20 minutes after getting the initial text sent to her), call my mom to tell her what happened (she was asleep) and my dad. I sent an email to my colleagues who were either in transit to, or already in, Warsaw for our meeting letting them know that we had been in an emergency landing. Some of them had already sent messages that their flights were delayed, so weren’t sure when they’d arrive (not knowing of the actual incident yet).
display monitor in the lounge room we were brought to showing all flights delayed…would all be cancelled soon after.



I received a call from work, saying that they had been alerted to the incident and asking if I needed any assistance (medical or otherwise). I assured them I was fine and just waiting with the rest of the passengers.

They had TVs everywhere playing footage of the landing on every channel, and I managed to record some of that footage with my phone. I chatted with a few fellow English speaking passengers and passed the time hanging out with them. We weren't getting a lot of good information from anyone, and we ended up waiting up to 7 hours before the majority of folks could get their bags and leave.
Not enough chairs for everyone, we were kept in 2 lounge rooms connected by this hallway where they’d make announcements from


Sustenance for the 7 hrs (for me): water, juice, cheese, crackers and chocolates.



If anyone had no carry on, they were permitted to leave a bit earlier.



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Photo © Tomasz Zylowski



At about 9:30 PM, they had retrieved the first batch of bags from the overhead (my laptop, iPad and expensive camera were all undamaged), they offered me a taxi voucher (I already had a hotel booked) and escorted me to the cab.

Some reporters asked if I would answer a few questions, which I did (how was it, was everyone freaking out, what was the landing like, etc). I drove off and proceeded to the hotel. I never heard another word from LOT or the Polish authorities, though I know some other passengers have.

Once at the hotel, I met up with some colleagues for a well-earned drink and we had a toast to my safe landing.

Other flights were diverted and it ended up being 2 days before the re-opened the airport since the plane came to a stop right near the intersection of runways 33 and 29, preventing any other aircraft operations from taking place until they could move the 767 2 days later.

The final report is not out, but preliminary findings are that there was a hydraulic line failure about 2mins 20 seconds into the flight out of Newark. The captain decided to continue with the flight normally. When attempting to lower the gear on final approach, the gear did not lower and the backup system failed as well due to a blown circuit breaker. It's not clear why the CB was open (did someone bump it, did it overload and blow?), but once the investigators had lifted the plane on airbags and pushed it back in, the gear descended normally.

On the one hand, I have to say the pilots did an amazing job of landing the plane with no gear – but the question remains: why was this CB open, and why was it not closed as part of their checks once the hydraulic system failed. Should this have been the responsibility of the pilots? The land crew they surely would have been in contact with?

Since I stepped off that plane, I have not heard one word from anyone connected to LOT or the investigation – it’s as if it never happened. Despite many of my colleagues and friends suggesting I should do otherwise, I flew back with LOT as originally scheduled one week later and, thankfully and as expected, it was an incident free flight. I might have thought there would be a special flyer status for “survived a plane ‘crash’ with us” that would entitle me to an extra beverage or two, but I suppose not.

Since the incident, I’ve traveled overseas nearly 2 dozen times and haven’t really changed my traveling habits, but there is one notable effect that this episode had on me:

In the years prior to this incident, I loved traveling and have always been a “window seat” person. I habitually took photos of every stage of the trip, as much as I could get away with. The photos were nothing special and basically just took up space on my hard drive, but I enjoyed it

In the hours and days following the landing, I started receiving URLs from friends and colleagues to photos of the landing from various aviation photography websites and it was then that I discovered “plane spotting” and the “official” aviation photography hobby. I found it fascinating that so many people captured these great photos of an event that meant so much to me, and from that, I started taking photos differently…partly with an eye to getting them passed the screeners, and partly with a desire that if I could ever be the one to supply someone with a photo that would be meaningful to them (life event or just a bit of fun), I’d like to be able to do that.

John's pictures on Airliners.net

John at the Florida Aviation Photography 2014 Convention ramptour of FLL airport. He is a more dedicated and enthusiastic aviation photographer due to his experiences on the flight.

Written by
John Mageropoulos

John Mageropoulos is a husband and father of 4; widely traveled – ~30 countries - lived in ~ a dozen, and lost all hint of the original Aussie accent in the process; Finance IT Projects pay the bills and keeps the brain going; I sneak in aviation photography on my travels and hobby junior sports photography on the weekends.

7 User Comments:
Username: Eksath [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-27 10:58:20 and read 32768 times.

Thanks John for sharing your story!

Suresh

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-27 14:23:15 and read 32768 times.

That was fantastic! I'm sure everyone wants to hear from someone who had a first hand experience. Seems like the crew dealt with it well. Thanks for sharing and glad you all survived! And what a way to get into aviation....;)

Aoife

Username: Cedarjet [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-27 16:53:58 and read 32768 times.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share this experience with us. I have flown LOT twice across the pond (only eastbound, once JFK-WAW and once YYZ-WAW) so I guess I can picture the flight in some ways (although my YYZ-WAW machine wasn't a proper LOT plane, it was painted in their livery and everything but it was an old banger from a leasing company, possibly brought in to replace SP-LPC; when the moving map cycled through it's pages of maps and flight data, it included a screen that said, "Thank you for flying Zoom Airlines").

Why did they keep you there til 9.30pm? That is crazy. 12 hours? I would have left and told LOT where to send my bags after the first hour. I remember when USAir put a 737 into the East River after going off the end of a runway at LGA in the 90s with one fatality; two businessmen-type passengers were seen climbing out of the river and up an embankment to a highway where they flagged down a taxi, got in and drove off. Very New York.

I also think it's quite comical that LOT never even contacted you to apologise, let alone dump a gazillion frequent flyer miles into your Star Alliance account. Then again, I would fly them again but they aren't a great airline, Cathay Pacific they are not.

Thanks again for telling us your story here.

Username: Vivekman2006 [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-27 21:46:11 and read 32768 times.

Wow what a story, and what a narration! Extremely gripping, just like a thriller - only it was real.

Good to know you came out unharmed, and that this incident inspired you to become an aviation enthusiast and spotter. Welcome to our community!

Wish you all the best in the future.

Regards,
Vivek Manvi
Mumbai, India

Username: Mila [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-28 01:49:49 and read 32768 times.

Great John to share this story and you even got yourself a new hobby, something negative turns to positive. I think after a accident like this one starts to see the beauty in everything hence you plane spotting!

Username: Flyingturtle [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-28 03:45:57 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for sharing your very interesting story! It also shows the professionalism of the FAs and the pilots.

But letting you wait for seven hours and not being contacted afterwards by LOT is a little bit Ryanair-ish, if you ask me... time to chose another airline in future.

Username: Xaapb [User Info]
Posted 2014-03-28 09:15:06 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for sharing your story John. I still remember when this happened, I was very happy to see a great outcome for everyone involved in this accident.

All the best!

Greetings from Mexico.

Jorge Meneses.

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