You’re sitting in your seat, two hours into a 15-hour flight. All of a sudden, without any warning, the plane nosedives toward the ocean…for 10 seconds. That’s what happened to passengers aboard Qantas 94 from Los Angeles to Melbourne on Sunday.
A first-hand passenger account best relates the horror. Janelle Wilson told the West Australian:
It was between 1½ and two hours after we left LA and all of a sudden the plane went through a violent turbulence and then completely up-ended and we were nosediving.
We were all lifted from our seats immediately and we were in a free fall. It was that feeling like when you are at the top of a rollercoaster and you’ve just gone over the edge of the peak and you start heading down.
It was an absolute sense of losing your stomach and that we were nosediving. The lady sitting next to me and I screamed and held hands and just waited but thought with absolute certainty that we were going to crash. It was terrifying.
United Airlines lets you listen into Air Traffic Control (“Channel 9”) on select aircraft. When listening, you’ll often hear this warning as an aircraft departs, “United 839. Clear for takeoff runway 27L. Caution wake turbulence.” But it’s more than just a takeoff or landing issue.
Wake turbulence is a real thing. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, but in a nutshell, it is a disturbance in the atmosphere that forms behind an aircraft as it passes through the air. Get too close and you’ll feel it.
Qantas blamed the issue “short burst of wake turbulence from another A380 flying ahead and above it.” Apparently, an A380 bound for Sydney (QF12), which had departed just minutes before the flight to Melbourne, was 1,000 feet above QF04 and about 20 nautical miles away.
What a scary incident. It’s also a great reminder of why you should always keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the fasten seat belt sign is off.
image: Brian / Wikimedia Commons