... "messages you don't want to hear onboard an airborne aircraft".
First of all, before giving a misleading impression: no, the whole incident was not really dramatic. Still, it was one of the more eventful flights in my life.
Sat 19 Nov 2005. The whole day started as usual. I slept far too long, got up at 7:00am instead of 6:00, left the house at 7:45 instead of 7:00 and arrived at HAM
airport at 08:05 instead of 07:30, with my flight to FRA
leaving at 08:30. Luckily, everything went very smooth, no queues neither at the ticket counter, nor at the check-in desk, and boarding started with 15 minutes delay. So I was lucky once again and managed to catch my flight even without being forced to run.
(LH007) was uneventful, to say the least. I fell asleep right after takeoff and woke up no earlier than upon touching ground at FRA
at 09:45. I then had more than 2 hours to stay at FRA
before LH648 to ALA was scheduled to leave at 12:30. I planned this intentionally, as I prefer to do a bit of shopping, eating and bird-watching at FRA
to hurrying for my connecting flight.
So I spent a relaxing hour at McDonald's in terminal B, watching several B74x touching down (mostly LH
, but also 1 SQ
) and an LH
A34x performing a rather smoky landing.
After buying some gifts for my wife who waited for me in Almaty, I took the Skyline train back to terminal A in order to check in for my flight to ALA. Boarding started in time and went rather quickly, thanks to the plane being more than half-empty. Soon, we were pushed back and queued for take-off well in time.
– ALA with one of their two A330-200. As far as I know, they got these 2 a/c from SQ
, anyway they are the only LH
planes to offer PTV in Y-class. The inflight magazine announced "A Beautiful Mind", which I had not seen yet, so I was looking forward to a rather comfortable flight. As the plane was half-empty, I switched to an empty middle-row before take-off.
We took off smoothly and started climbing out of FRA
. It was a couple of minutes after we were airborne that I started to wonder what was going on. Even though I was sitting in a middle row, I could see both wings through the windows, and noticed the flaps were still deployed. I wondered what that could mean. The captain would not have forgotten to... no, he won't, I reassured myself.
When another couple of minutes later we stopped climbing and accelerating at only 4000m and 380 km/h, I was rather sure we had some technical problems. It took another 15 minutes before the captain's voice was heard on the PA, speaking the words no one really likes to hear onboard of an airborne a/c:
"Ladies and Gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I'm sorry, but I have to inform you that we are currently experiencing technical problems that may keep us from continuing our journey to Almaty..."
He then explained briefly that the flaps would not retract, what this meant and why an a/c has flaps at all, and that the situation was not dangerous, but could force us to return to FRA
if they were not able to solve the problem. They were currently in touch with their "tech hotline" and tried to get rid of the problem by resetting several systems. He promised to keep us updated on the progress.
All in all, I think he chose the best words to explain the situation. Even though you could feel a certain tension rising, everyone stayed quite calm and relaxed. Especially the Russians on board seemed not to bother at all – these folks seem to cope with such situations better than most Germans would, as it was mostly Germans who started looking nervous, holding hands with their partners, one even started praying.
For me, it was the first time I experienced such a situation myself. I was not nervous as I know at least the very basics of flying and thus knew that it would be no problem at all to land an a/c with deployed flaps. Only one thought briefly disturbed me: was that really the only problem we had, or was it perhaps just one part of some larger problem? Anyway, I decided that such thoughts are just in vain, as I could do fairly nothing anyway, apart from trusting that the captain knew what he was doing.
Some 10 minutes later, the captain spoke again, informing us that they were unable to solve the problem, and that we would have to return to FRA
. He assured again that this was not really a bad problem, that we were completely safe and that we could expect just a normal landing in FRA
At that time, we were northeast of Nuremberg, so it would take us some 45 minutes to return to FRA
. The plane started circling over the area, maybe to dump fuel (I could not see that from my seat) or just for waiting to get cleared for the approach to FRA
. After performing 2 full circles, we started heading back towards FRA
I decided to change seats again, as I spotted an empty window seat in the back of the plane and wanted to have a better view on the landing. I asked the f/a if it was okay with her, but she obviously misinterpreted my request and thought that I may be terribly nervous, so she tried to calm me down. I assured her that this was not necessary ar all and I just wanted to watch our approach. I came to think she was much more nervous than I was
10 minutes before landing, the captain spoke once again, telling us that we may be greeted by a couple of fire trucks upon touchdown. This would be a standard procedure and really did not mean anything, so we should not be alarmed by the sight. At this point, I considered visiting the lavatory – no, not because I was alarmed, but as I had to bite my own ass for having checked in my camera equipment along with my baggage. That was certainly the worst idea I could have that day – the thought of some fire trucks chasing our a/c and me not being able to shoot this really made my day...
(Btw, usually I would always take at least my small Casio Exilim onboard, but this time I had more handluggage than usual, plus I traveled this route countless times before and did not expect anything unusual to happen... bad idea!)
So we finally approached FRA
, and – surprise, surprise – it was a completely normal landing. If there were any fire trucks, I did not see them. The only thing I did see upon turning into the APRON was an airport maintenance car that hurried down the runway behind us.
We then headed for a parking position and were informed that a replacement aircraft was prepared within 1 hour, so that we could continue the journey as soon as possible. What really annoyed me (and what I will write a complaint to LH
about): we were then sitting more than 1 hour in our A332 and were not served anything to drink. The cabin crew was obviously busy switching everything over to the new a/c (an A343) that meanwhile parked next to us, so we felt rather forgotten.
Finally, we were ready to board the new a/c. Even though it parked right next to us, we had to go the few meters by bus. Still, upon exiting the bus, I had a nice view on a JAL Cargo 747 leaving it's parking position, being flanked by 2 parking cargo MD11s. For the second time that day I really missed my camera. But also without it, the sight of a 747 heading right towards you is truly amazing.
We boarded the A343 and few minutes later took off for ALA the second time that day. This time, the flaps were succesfully retracted, and soon, we were finally served something to drink. The flight itself was rather uneventful. I had some quite delicious beef stripes with pasta and vegetables, and we encountered some mild turbulences above the Ural mountains – nothing to write home about.
The final adventure greeted us upon approaching Almaty airport. The whole area was covered under a cloud of very dense fog, plus it was snowing heavily around the airport. When we dived into the cloud, I realized the fog was so dense that I was unable to see #4 engine anymore – visibility was well below 25m.
The fog lasted until few meters above the ground, so when we left the fog cloud and I could see the snow-covered ground right below us, I realized much to my dismay that I could not spot any runway underneath us. The pilot obviously only then realized that he came in much too low and gave full thrust to the engines right away, which helped us touching down on the very first meters of the runway, right on the piano keys. Obviously, he also did not hit the middle of the runway and had to make quite some corrections upon braking, which caused the a/c to perform rather scary moves on the snow-covered runway. I can honestly say that this was the scariest landing I ever experienced in my life. I acknowledge that maybe it was not as bad as it looked and felt – but it did look and feel very bad, that much is for sure.
By the way, same flight next day, a business friend of mine made exactly the same experience under the same weather conditions, only this time the pilot performed a go-around after what was obviously a very bad first approach.
So that was my journey to ALA, where I still am these days. Wheather is fine, sunny and clear winter time with temperatures around 0°C. I hope that I will find time to go skiing at Mt. Shymbulak (great resort!) before returning to Germany together with my wife next saturday. We both really hope that that flight will be less eventful.
Hope you enjoyed my first trip report on a.net, the next may be about our journey to Mauritius in December, though I honestly hope that there will be not so much to report about
Btw, if I used any strange technical expressions (or non-technical ones as well
), please forgive me - English is not my mother tongue, plus I'm neither a pilot nor a flight expert, but just a bloody pax