Pilot’s Precarious Flight

June 6, 2016

in Airplane Stories

I am a retired airline captain and a number of years ago I had a cargo flight out of Bogotá, Columbia. The airport is over 8,200 feet above sea level, so I knew my old four engine DC-8 would be struggling to get airborne even with the two mile long runway. The weather was in the toilet with rain, 2 miles visibility, and a 400 foot ceiling.

The problem leaving Bogotá is that it sets in the bottom of the mountains that are all over 12,000 feet in all directions except to the northeast. It should have been an easy flight back to Miami, except that they had overloaded us with 25,000 pounds more than our performance spec said we could carry.

I should have known something was wrong when it took twice as much power just to leave the chocks, or when the plane didn’t break ground after rotation. By that time it was too late to abort the take off, so we kept going until the very end of the runway. Shortly after clearing the airport perimeter fence we entered the overcast.

The next problem was that the departure required a turn in less than two miles and we were not climbing. I had my engineer overboost the engines to 105% and we started to climb slowly. As we got to a 30 degree bank to the right, the plane started to shake with a pre-stalling buffet at a speed of over 200 mph.

The departure profile was to fly to a beacon 18 miles away that had a min-crossing altitude; we were 450 feet below that altitude when we crossed that beacon. We were still in the overcast and were about 500 feet above the mountains going 220 mph. The five minutes it took to get to that beacon was sheer HELL. Every second we felt like we were going to die.

The profile showed we had to home into a second beacon; that one we crossed 300 feet too low, but we were out of the woods. We kept trying to figure out what the problem was; we found out when the plane stopped climbing at 18,000 feet. It should have been able to make it to 28,000 feet with the load we thought we had. By working the performance numbers backwards we could see that we were overloaded.

Because of the lower cruise altitude, we calculated our extra fuel burn would leave us out of fuel before we reached Miami. By stage climbing, i.e. burn off fuel and then climbing higher, we were able to reach Miami with 35 minutes of fuel.

That was one of many flights I have had from HELL, and believe it or not this was not the worst of the lot.

– Captain Larry

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gregg - admin June 7, 2016 at 7:27 pm

If you have stories even more hellish than that, then please share them with us Captain!

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Traveler1 June 7, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Please Captain, share more! That was a fantastic story, the best one on here I've read!

Reply

Moofly June 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Please Share!!

Reply

Domingo Detitta June 28, 2016 at 8:47 am

You should have never taken off… Captain

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