It was a routine flight until the stowaway showed up. The crew was 45 minutes into the flight and already at cruising altitude. None of the emergency checklists catered to such a situation. It was the flight engineer that first noticed the danger.
He barely had time to alert his colleagues when the pilot was suddenly attacked. Everyone tried to wrangle the pilot free, but it was no use; they were forced to call in an emergency.
Being a commercial pilot is a highly glamorized job. The admiration and respect pilots receive are certainly deserved. Pilot-level expertise in other jobs is not as common.
In a pilot’s case, they must be trained for all eventualities and work in an environment with a notoriously low margin for error. However, no matter how well-trained pilots are, some situations can never be guarded against.
The glamor aside, commercial pilots also have one of the most strenuous jobs. The novelty of flying to exotic destinations most likely fades after time. Commercial pilots have to work under pressure and on packed schedules while battling fatigue caused by constantly crossing different timezones.
When emergencies occur unexpectedly, pilots are expected to react instantaneously and without much margin for error, no matter how up to the task they may be at the time.
On a routine flight from Khartoum, Sudan, to Doha, Qatar, the cockpit crew of a Tarco Aviation flight was not expecting the drama that unfolded on board.
The flight had left Khartoum roughly an hour before and was at cruising altitude when the crew first noticed the problem. It was an uninvited passenger, and suddenly nothing about the flight was routine anymore.
Commercial aviation is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world for a good reason. Although still widely regarded as the safest mode of transport, the risks inherent in flying are notorious.
At 40000 feet, any problem, mechanical, human, or otherwise, can easily be catastrophic. While newer model commercial jets are kitted out with so much tech that the planes practically fly themselves, accidents still occur far more often than any pilot or passenger would prefer.
Commercial airliners are, of course, meant for human passengers. However, the industry has vastly changed over the decades. Believe it or not, passengers were once allowed to smoke during flights.
Aside from changes like the mandatory introduction of non-smoking flights, the introduction of allowing animals to be transported on planes began in the 1930s. This practice has since undergone many updates.
In the U.S, the Air Carriers Act previously allowed passengers to bring “emotional support animals” on board commercial flights. If this wasn’t enough, such animals were even allowed to fly for free.
All such passengers required to take advantage of this service was a letter from a licensed doctor or therapist confirming that such an animal was needed for the passenger to fly safely. However, what the act intended and how it was used caused many problems.
Legislators likely envisioned the odd service dog or cat when the law was introduced. However, there have since been numerous instances of people abusing the service and bringing along everything from emotional support birds to snakes.
The worst part was that everyone was getting in on the act, even the professionals entrusted with guarding its legitimacy.
Eventually, the practice of emotional support pets on board commercial flights became so frequent that it became an industry.
Passengers could source the necessary medical letters by filling out drop-down questionnaires online and pay up to $200.00 to procure such letters without even needing to step foot into a doctor’s office. The law had to intervene once more.
All the abuse prompted the practice to be banned, and emotional support animals must now be checked into the cargo hold. In addition, separate fees are charged to have them on board unless they are specially trained dogs.
These sweeping changes were also meant to vitiate added risks to passengers, cabin, and cockpit crew on commercial flights. However, as the Khartoum incident proved, no flight was ever wholly risk-free.
After getting their plane to cruising altitude without incident, the flight engineer noticed that an uninvited guest had made their way into the cockpit. Before anyone could react, the pilot was suddenly and viciously attacked.
His colleagues tried their best to intervene, but the situation became too unpredictable. They were forced to call in a Mayday and rapidly descend for an emergency landing.
The captain thankfully managed to safely land the plane back in Khartoum. The unexpected attacker turned out to be a stowaway domestic cat. It had somehow found its way to the front of the aircraft without being detected by the cabin crew.
It was then likely startled upon encountering the cockpit crew and attacked on instinct. The unfortunate pilot was left with minor scratches and one crazy story. Despite the plane ultimately landing safely, one burning question remained.
Given the stringent safety checks and boarding procedures for commercial flights, it was puzzling how the cat had gotten on. Adding to the mystery was the fact that the manifest showed no animals held in cargo that day.
It was eventually deduced that the cat most likely got on while the plane was parked off at the airport. It might have jumped aboard, fallen asleep in the cargo hold, and been rudely awakened at 38000 feet in the air. Regardless, it was still a narrow escape.
As the famous case of the Hudson River landing showed, bird strikes and other animal encounters with planes can sometimes lead to terrifying and even fatal scenarios.
The cockpit crew aboard the Tarco flight were able to eventually wrestle the cat of their pilot and restore order. However, the cat proved extremely evasive and managed to escape the cockpit before anyone could grab it.
While it must have been a scary encounter for the cockpit crew, passengers were blissfully unaware of how close they came to encountering catastrophe. In the end, the safe landing ensured no one was hurt, and the flight, aside from the delay, later continued to its destination.
Even with all the new regulations, animals continue to cause havoc on planes. There is much debate between airlines worldwide over whether they should be allowed on board. What do you think?