When pilots go to work each day, they hold the lives of hundreds of people in their hands, which is why they have to undergo intense training to be prepared for any situation.
In May 2018, a Chinese pilot was flying a plane full of people on a route he had flown over a 100 times before. This time, however, something he never expected happened while they were over 30,000 feet in the air. Thanks to his training, he managed to stay calm and now the entire country is hailing him a hero…
A Commercial Pilot
On Monday, May 15, 2018, Liu Chuanjian showed up to work at the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in Chongqing, a city in southwestern China, like he did every other day since he became a commercial pilot for Sichuan Airlines in 2006.
Years Of Experience
Before becoming a captain for Sichuan Airlines, 46-year-old Liu had been a pilot and a trainer in the Air Force for The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (CPLA). He had spent decades flying planes and had been trained to handle any situation…
His Regular Route
Not only did Liu have 20 years 0f experience in the cockpit of an airplane, but he had flown the intended route more than a 100 times. So when he showed up for work on the morning of the 15th to fly an Airbus A-319 carrying 119 passengers, he was sure it was just going to be a straightforward day of work.
The Flight Schedule
After the crew loaded all 119 passengers in the plane and prepared for the trip, Liu and his co-pilot, Xu Ruicheng, took off on Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633 at 6:26 a.m. like it was scheduled to. By 9:05 that Monday morning, the plane was due to land in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region…
A few minutes after takeoff, Liu had successfully gotten the plane to a cruising altitude of about 32,800 feet in the air and had the plane traveling at about 500-560 miles per hour. Everything seemed perfectly normal until about a half an hour into the trip.
30 Minutes Later
At around 7 a.m., the plane was only about 60 miles into the trip when suddenly Liu and his co-pilot heard a loud band in the cockpit. “There are cracks in the windshield,” they both yelled out. The 46-year-old immediately got on the radio to contact traffic control…
“There was no warning sign. Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang,” said Liu, who asked for permission to turn back and land the plane immediately because of the windshield. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time for that.
The Shattered Windshield
Seconds later, the windshield completely shattered. “The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window,” Liu said about the terrifying moment. “I was afraid and tried in vain to pull him inside because he was far from me…”
No Protection From The Elements
When the windshield was blown off, the plane was traveling over 500 miles per hour and was more than 30,000 feet in the air, which resulted in a shortage of oxygen, low cabin pressure, powerful winds, extreme sun exposure, and -40-degree temperatures.
“Every object inside the cockpit flew up, and many devices malfunctioned. It was so noisy I couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard that I couldn’t read the panels. It was very difficult to operate,” Liu said. “The sudden loss in pressure and the low temperature were making me very uncomfortable…
“Every body movement was difficult. All I was thinking about was to safely operate the aircraft and couldn’t think about my own physical condition,” Liu added. Meanwhile, the passengers had no idea what was going on but were convinced they were about to die.
The Terrified Passengers
“The crew were serving us breakfast when the aircraft began to shake. We didn’t know what was going on and we panicked,” a passenger said. “Then the oxygen masks dropped… we experienced a few seconds of free fall before it stabilized again…”
The Free Fall
“There was a thundering sound from the head of the plane,” another passenger said. “The cabin immediately turned dark and the oxygen mask was dropped in front of me. The plane started to descend rapidly — it all happened in a split second.”
Preparing For The Worst
“I could see clearly the glaciers less than one kilometer below us. I could see the despair in the eyes of fellow passengers. They might, too, have seen my despair,” the passenger said. While the plane and crew were panicking, Liu, thankfully, kept his composure…
Trained For Emergencies
Once Liu’s co-pilot, who was only still alive because he had been wearing his seatbelt, was pulled back into the plane, Liu focused all his energy on making an emergency landing. “We’re trained for emergency situations like this all the time, and I’ve been a pilot for over twenty years,” Liu said.
Preparing For Landing
“When it happened all I was thinking about was just handling the flight landing well to guarantee the safety of all passengers and cabin crew,” said Liu. “It was like when you’re driving at 50 kilometers an hour, and suddenly the car is going 100 kilometers an hour, and your hands are out of the window…”
A Manual Landing
Since all of the equipment used to land wasn’t working, Liu had to land the massive aircraft manually. “It was completely done manually, and I judged with my naked eyesight… I’ve flown this route 100 times, so I am quite familiar with all aspects of it. There was no cloud this morning. I had excellent visibility. Had there been a rainstorm or some other bad weather, the consequences would have been different,” he said.
A Miracle Landing
About 20 minutes after the accident, Liu managed to land the plane in Chengdu, a southwestern city about 170 miles from where the doomed flight had taken off. According to Liu, the hardest part was trying to figure out how fast the descent needed to be…
The Careful Descent
“There was inadequate air and it was very cold at a high altitude. But if I lowered the aircraft too quickly, the impact force would endanger the crew. As a result, I had taken a medium speed,” Liu explained. After landing, his co-pilot was taken to the hospital where doctors determined he miraculously walked away with a sprained wrist and a few scratches to his face.
The Chinese Captain Sully
Miraculously, all 119 passengers and the 9 crew members walked away completely unharmed. Now, Liu is being called ‘the Chinese Captain Sully’ after American captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who made an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is investigating what caused the accident. “The windshield has not recorded any failures, nor did it require any maintenance and replacement work,” said Tang Weibin, CAAC safety director.
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