A Routine Plane Takeoff Quickly Turns into a Disaster

NARRATOR: Captain Kevin Stables
is preparing to pilot Emery Worldwide Flight 17. His first officer
is George Land. They’re hauling freight
across the country aboard a 30-year-old DC 8 cargo plane. Hi there. Is that the load plan? JOHN ALBRIGHT: Just
before they’re finished up loading the last
couple of containers, they would give us a list of
all the freight containers and how much it weighed in
what position on the airplane it was. There you go, boss. JOHN ALBRIGHT: Then we’d
take that information, and we would calculate the
weight balance on the airplane and make sure that
it was all correct. Air speed’s alive. Alive here. 80 knots. 80 knots. Elevator checks. NARRATOR: Just another
routine takeoff. V1. Rotate. NARRATOR: But as the nose
wheel leaves the ground, the DC 8 pitches upward much
more steeply than it should. Watch the tail. GREG FEITH: They
recognize that they have an issue during the
course of the airplane actually starting to rotate
as it lifts off the runway. B2, positive rate. NARRATOR: The sudden
takeoff is quickly followed by an uncommanded left bank. I got it. You got it? Yeah. NARRATOR: This is
anything but routine. We’re going back. What the hell? The center of gravity
is way out of limits. NARRATOR: They need to
return to the airport as quickly as possible. GEORGE LAND: Emery
17, emergency. Emery 17, say again. GREG FEITH: When a pilot
declares an emergency, that really cues an air traffic
controller to know that this isn’t just an
abnormal situation, this is a critical situation. COMPUTER: 3, 3, pull up. NARRATOR: The ground proximity
warning begins to sound. COMPUTER: Pull up. We’re sinking. We’re going down, guys. All right, all right. OK, we’re going back up. NARRATOR: The DC 8
starts climbing again. Roll out. Roll out! NARRATOR: But the pilots are
still struggling for control. Emery 17 extreme
balance problem. Emery 17, roger. The airplane started to go
into these big perturbations, dive, and then climb,
dive, and then climb. NARRATOR: They
push their control columns all the way forward
in a desperate effort to level the plane. Power. More? Yeah. NARRATOR: Captain
Stables and his crew have managed to get
their crippled plane to within sight of the runway. It was looking very well. He made it almost all the way
around to the backside airport. They knew they could
get back to the airport, there was going to be crash
fire rescue that would have been able then to help them. NARRATOR: They’ve now got
less than a mile to go. They’re still trying
to look ahead to figure out what needs to be done next. But they know that
sooner or later, they’re got to get on the ground.

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