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"And perhaps there was one other hero that day: The Boeing 747 itself. It was put through maneuvers and stresses that far outweighed its known limits, and yet despite it all, the aircraft survived and landed safely."
Narrator, Panic over the Pacificnote 

  • The sheer skill, professionalism, and intelligence of many of the investigative teams, especially the NTSB (the American national investigative board for aircraft accidents, among other things). It can boggle the mind to see them solve baffling puzzles with little more than bits and pieces scattered across a field or even buried in feet of mud at the bottom of a river. In one case ("Pushed to the Limit"), they even figure out the cause of a mysterious crash involving both the CVR and FDR cutting out well before any indication of trouble in the flight by noting the lack of a very short, very minor noise that is only heard when listening closely to sounds on a CVR when a circuit breaker clicks. In another case ("Hidden Danger"), they figure out the cause behind several accidents by coming up with a peculiar, extreme torture test of a perfectly functional and undamaged part that covered a scenario not even imagined by the part's designers or by the regulators involved. Thus, they solved a mystery involving a plane that had no damage to it, with all parts in perfectly working order and up to spec, with proof of no pilot error or bad weather conditions, with no signs that the plane's computers or electrical systems had malfunctioned, either.
    • On a similar note, the skills of the British Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), and French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) are on a par with the NTSB. It is not uncommon for at least one of the NTSB, AAIB, or BEA to assist other similar organisations worldwide due to their engineering and aviation expertise.
  • Any episode where tragedy is averted and there's minimal to no loss of life certainly counts. Double if the plane manages to make a landing, despite overwhelming odds, such as British Airways Flight 9 in "Falling From The Sky." That episode deserves a special mention, with the captain's deadpan announcement to the passengers:
    "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress."
    • It crosses with Tear Jerker territory, as the celebration of the passengers, and the pilots, mixed with the music just makes for a catch in the throat.
  • Any time the pilots manage to crash-land a plane under extremely unfavorable conditions with at least some survivors. This includes the Japan Air Lines flight which had its vertical stabilizer blown off, cabin pressure lost, and all hydraulic lines severed. Despite having no control beyond throttle adjustment of an incredibly damaged and unstable plane, note  not to mention suffering from relatively mild hypoxia because they didn't put their oxygen masks on, they managed to keep it flying for 32 minutes and crash-landed in a way that left some survivors. Were it not for a horrible case of misplaced national pride interfering with rescue operations, there probably would have been more than four survivors—but even four survivors is remarkable under such conditions. Also can be considered a Dying Moment of Awesome for the pilots. When recreating the accident in simulators, not only was no one able to safely land the plane, but no one kept it in the air as long as the real pilots did.
    • Along the same lines, the UA 232 pilots (including Denny Fitch, a flight instructor who just happened to be on board as a passenger that day; most notably, after reading about the JAL 123 incident above, Fitch had experimented with flying using only engine power adjustments in case of total loss of hydraulic controls on his own flight simulator). Faced with an impossible landing and a plane they could barely control, they managed to get the plane on a runway and save over half of the nearly 300 people onboard. Much like with the JAL plane, multiple attempts were made to re-create the flight in a simulator, and 28 simulations in a row ended with the plane crashing short of the runway. They only managed it after Denny Fitch himself offered some suggestions.
  • It's not just pilots, crew, and investigators that have their moments of awesome. Sometimes the passengers get theirs too. In "Disaster/Tragedy On the Potomac", passenger Arland D. Williams, Jr, is one of six survivors from Air Florida Flight 90 which crashed and plunged into the icy Potomac River. Instead of grabbing the rope from rescue officials, because he is hopelessly tangled in the wreckage, he gives the rope to the other passengers, saving all five. Because of this, he succumbs to hypothermia and drowns as the plane sinks. The 14th Street Bridge, the same one that the plane crashed into, is renamed after him.
    • In "A Wounded Bird", a passenger risks his own life to try and help free the copilot from the burning cockpit of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529. It's unclear whether his actions actually made a difference in the outcome (the copilot was unable to get out through the window and ultimately had to be pulled out through the back by emergency crews once they'd contained the fire), but he gets CMOA credit just for the effort.
    • In "Impossible Landing", a passenger who has just escaped the wreckage hears a baby crying inside and immediately goes back to look for it. According to the narrator, he manages to find the baby and reunite her with her parents.
    • In "Deadly Detail" (China Airlines Flight 120), during the evacuation one of the passengers noticed a woman still in her seat and seeming distressed. He separated from his wife and children to go back and help her — it turned out she needed her crutches that were in the overhead compartment. If the re-enactment is to be believed, she was right next to where the fire had started (and where the explosion ultimately happened), so if he hadn't helped her, she might not have made it. As it is, everyone evacuated and survived the incident, and it might be thanks to him that they avoided a single fatality.
  • As sad as it is considering how it ended, the grim determination of the pilots in "Cutting Corners" (Alaska Airlines Flight 261) is a sight to behold:
    John Nance: They tried to fly the airplane even upside-down. They never for a moment believed that they could not find a way to control this airplane.
    Captain Thomson: Are we flying? We're flying, we're flying… Tell 'em what we're doing. At least upside-down we're flying!
  • The co-pilot of British Airways Flight 5390 in "Blow Out" did a terrific job; after the captain was sucked out the window, he had to land a plane he wasn't very familiar with on his own and in an airport he also wasn't familiar with. All of that while fighting to breathe due to explosive decompression. The roar of the winds made it near impossible to establish communications with Air Traffic Control and the protocol for landing couldn't be completed for an emergency landing because the books had been blown out of the cockpit. Yet he landed the plane with no loss of life. Even the captain survived.
    • The flight attendants also deserve praise for holding on to the captain and therefore saving his life. The plane was plummeting from a height of 17,300 feet and the pressure meant that Captain Lancaster now weighed about 500 pounds. Flight Attendant Nigel Ogden suffered frostbite, damage to his eye and a dislocated shoulder - yet didn't let go until the crew had finished preparing the passengers for emergency landing and come into the cockpit to relieve him.
    • The captain himself for surviving the ordeal. He was back at work just five months later.
      Nigel Ogden: I mean, he's a very strong man. He must have been, to survive that.
  • When a massive portion of the skin of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 breaks away mid-flight near Hawaii, leaving the front of the aircraft effectively hanging on by a thread and dozens of passengers effectively having no ceiling over their heads or walls around them, the crew manage to actually land the plane safely, the only fatality being one flight attendant who got sucked out during the initial decompression. Pretty much everyone who saw the extent of the damage afterwards, including investigative officials, was stunned that the plane held together and that the crew managed to actually land it intact.
    • Only one out of the three flight attendants was able to attend to passengers during the incident (one was sucked out during the decompression, the other was unconscious from a head injury). Despite the overwhelming panic and chaos around her, the intense wind and turbulence (which made her unable to stand), and having an injured coworker to worry about, Michelle Honda still did her job and crawled up the aisle to tell each passenger to brace for landing. And then she crawled back to her injured colleague to shield her from further injury during the landing.
  • "Attack over Baghdad" had a DHL cargo plane with a crew of three that twice gets attacked by insurgents with shoulder-mounted missiles. One of those missiles successfully strikes their left wing, damaging the wing, the undercarriage, both engines, and, critically, completely disabling their hydraulics—the pilots' way of controlling the aircraft. The loss of hydraulics had proven fatal in two previous flights. They had to learn on-the-fly how to fly by propulsion. Altitude had to be controlled by managing the thrust of the engines to move between ascent and descent while their heading was managed by differential thrust and shifting fuel from one engine to another. After ten minutes of experimenting and one failed attempt to position for a landing, they finally got into position for a landing without hydraulics—only tried once before by United Airlines Flight 232 with fatal results. They touched-down, veering-off the runway and into an area that contained live explosives. Despite all of that, the crew survived the events completely unscathed and were commended for having successfully landed a damaged plane without hydraulic controls.
  • The crew of FedEx Flight 705 in "Fight For Your life" who despite suffering from multiple head injuries from a hammer, managed to not only keep would-be hijacker Auburn Calloway down but pull off impressive manoeuvres to keep Calloway off balance and land the overloaded cargo plane safely. Hardly surprising that they all receive medals for heroism, the highest honour a pilot can receive.
    • The fact that the aircraft in question, a transport-category airliner fat with fuel and freight, was able to survive manoeuvres for which it had never been designed (140 degrees of bank, basically upside down, a near-supersonic dive whilst upside down, tight turns during the approach and landing that would have taxed a fighter aircraft) and landed intact (albeit heavily damaged) should earn its designers and builders a special mention.
    • It also bears mentioning that Calloway was heavily armed and was skilled in martial arts, having trained under the Marines- yet he completely failed in his goal to crash the plane.
  • Philippine Airlines Flight 434 deserves a mention for the flight crew, consisting of Captain Ed Reyes, First Officer Jaime Herrera, and Flight Engineer Dexter Comendador, managing to land their 747 after a bomb successfully planted by terrorist Ramzi Yousef went off in the cabin, killing a passenger and disabling the flight controls. The flight crew manage to pull off a landing with differential thrust, a manoeuvre which was notably attempted on two different occasions several years earlier, by Japan Airlines Flight 123 and United Airlines Flight 232. While the two earlier attempts ended in the aircraft crashing, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 was successful in landing at Naha Airport on Okinawa, with the passenger killed from the bomb blast being the flight's only fatality.
  • As horrifying an accident as Air Canada 797 was, it featured two instances of heroism in quick succession. Firstly, captain Donald Cameron and first officer Claude Ouimet landed a damaged and burning aircraft safely, in spite of the controls rapidly deteriorating. After realising Cameron was too exhausted by the ordeal to be able to get out of his seat and climb out of the cockpit window, Ouimet then ordered fire crews to hose him down with cold water and foam, shocking him awake and giving him the adrenaline to clamber out, allowing Ouimet to drag Cameron to safety moments before the burning DC-9 exploded.
  • While it was pilot error that caused China Airlines Flight 006 to stall and nosedive into a freefall towards the ocean in "Panic over the Pacific," it was the same flight crew that managed to save the plane from smashing into the ocean with seconds to spare from impact, saving everyone from certain death. Not only that, part of the reason why they made these errors was because they lacked enough sleep, thus they were able to save the airplane and save everyone on board while being very tired to begin with! All accounts confirm that they managed a perfect landing.
    • The plane itself, a 747SP model, surviving the 5G and near-supersonic stresses imposed on it by the maddening dive. The page quote is provided by the ending of the episode.
  • The famous Gimli Glider incident stands out. July 23rd, 1983: Air Canada Flight 143 ran out of fuel midway through a flight from Montreal to Edmonton, because of a miscalculation made when refueling. The lead pilot, experienced in flying gliders, slowed the craft for an emergency landing using a gliding technique known as a forward slip. He yawed in one direction and rolled in the other, turning the whole aircraft so that more of its dorsal side was facing the air in order to use the increased drag to slow down. The pilot, formerly of the Royal Canadian Air Force, planned to use the airstrip of a nearby RCAF base to make his landing. What he didn't know was that the now-decommissioned base had had its airstrip turned into a racetrack - which was in use at the time! The huge crowd gathered for the race had a gigantic airliner bearing down on them, with no working engines, moving at over 200 miles per hour, in complete silence! Miraculously, the pilot succeeded in safely crash-landing the plane on the track without anyone getting hurt. All the injuries (most of them extremely minor) were sustained during the evacuation due to emergency slides at the rear not reaching the ground.
    • Special mention goes to the two children who manage to outpace the landing plane on bicycles!
      Narrator: They don't hear the plane coming for them, without engines it's silent. And one thing the 767 doesn't have... is a horn.
  • A special mention for "Nowhere to Land" with TACA Flight 110. Not only did the captain manage to land his crippled plane on a levee at NASA's Michoud assembly plant in New Orleans - but the plane was in such good shape that investigators managed to take the aircraft to the NASA facility, then fly it out of there with only minimal repair (one burned-out engine replacednote ). It was then flown to a proper airport for further checks. And if that's not badass enough, it should be noted that the captain in question only has one eye.
    • And that's not even getting into how the pilot lost his eye. Some years prior to the TACA incident, he was working for a small regional airline when he ended up caught in the crossfire of a gunfight during a civil war in El Salvador. He managed to fly his passengers to safety with a bullet in his face.
  • The episode about Reeve Aleutian Airways Flight 8, in which one of the propellers came off and sliced through the belly of the aircraft. Nobody was injured, but the flight control cables were damaged. After wrestling with the controls, they manage to make it to Anchorage, have to do a go-around because they're too fast to land, and shut off the engines just before landing, skidding to the end of the runway after a six-hour-long ordeal. No injuries, no additional damage to the aircraft. The captain gives one final order before the crew leaves the aircraft: "Hats, coats, and ties, boys!" The crew proceeds to Team Power Walk away from the plane in full uniform.
  • The crews of "River Runway" (Garuda Indonesia Flight 421) and "Hudson River Runway" (US Airways Flight 1549) both deserve praise for landing an airplane in a river, largely intact, with no functioning engines. Both crews responded well by performing the appropriate emergency checklists, and both crews displayed excellent teamwork, trust, communication, and crew resource management. Both crews received honors from their respective governments, and public recognition from their respective communities, and rightly so.
    • The Garuda flight is particularly impressive because of the extreme challenges involved: The plane lost power completely due to a damaged battery, which meant they had to fly and land the plane with only a select few standby instruments; no radio meant no ATC assistance; they spent most of the incident flying through a horrendous hailstorm with almost no visibility; the river they had to land in was narrow, shallow, and tortuous; and they had two bridges to avoid, which ended up forcing them to do a go-around (which was physically difficult without power-assisted steering). It makes the US Airways landing look like a cakewalk, yet they pulled it off with only a single fatality sustained.
  • Trans-Air Service Flight 671 is another one that deserves mention. The 707 cargo plane with 5 people onboard loses both engines on the left wing while flying through extreme turbulence over the Alps. Despite the plane being barely controllable (and at one point even on fire), they manage to land at Istres-Le Tubé Air Base in France with no injuries and the cargo undamaged. One of the investigators interviewed said what the crew went through was virtually unsurvivable.
  • When Egypt Air Flight 990 went into an extremely steep dive over the Atlantic, Captain Ahmed El-Habashi (who had gone to the lavatory while the relief first officer was flying the plane) somehow made it back to the cockpit in zero-G conditions and and was behind the controls less than twenty seconds after the dive began. Although the captain was ultimately unable to save the planenote , even being in a position to try required an incredible feat on his part.

Alternative Title(s): Air Crash Investigation