Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Declaring an emergency

Most pilots go their entire career without declaring an emergency.

Supposed to be an easy two day trip. A 3 and 3.

I met the Crew at the gate. Inbound aircraft was running late.

The crew was new to me. The Captain was very laid back. I made my normal, "No paperwork, no news" motto of flying.

While boarding I politely asked the Flight Attendant, "When you get a chance may I have a bottle of water and a Diet Coke, just the can?"

She responded with, " I prefer if you get it yourself before boarding starts, I'm not your waitress."

Both the Captain and I were taken back. Really? Wow.

Our destination was forecast to be VFR and have no weather issues. We blocked out with 8800 pounds of fuel. Our minimum takeoff fuel was 8400 pounds.

When we lined up in position we had 8600 pounds in the tanks. Good to go.

The first chink in the armor was departure keeping us low longer than planned due to arriving traffic. Once clear we were up to FL350 which was supposed to be smooth. It wasn't. Down to FL330 which was smoother.

The tradeoff was burning about 90 pounds more per hour per side. The Flight Management Computer estimated landing with 1900 pounds of fuel versus the dispatcher planned of 2100. Not a big deal as it was supposed to be VFR.

Well nearing the airport the center controller started us down earlier than planned. The FMC showed arriving with just 1700 pounds. That got our attention. Request to stay high were denied.

I got the ATIS and was surprised to what I heard, "Thunderstorms just west of the field moving east." The airport was east of the storm.

My Captain whipped out the enroute chart and looked for an alternate. We didn't have fuel for an again...supposed to be VFR. He found one. I then advised our dispatcher of the weather, our fuel on board and planned diversion via the FMC.

"Be advised the storm is moving quickly toward the field. You might be able to beat it in. Descend and maintain 1600 proceed direct to the Final Approach Fix when able." said the approach controller.

Three miles from the FAF approach advised, "Microburst on the approach end of runway 21, heavy rain over the airport, Thunderstorm approaching quickly."

Just then the right fuel tank flashed amber. We were into our reserve fuel.

"That's it, tell him we are diverting" said my Captain.

"Approach we are diverting, minimum fuel." I stated.

"Turn left heading 340, climb and maintain 10,000" said approach.

I got busy quick. I advised our dispatcher that we were indeed diverting. I then told the Flight Attendant and made a PA to the passengers.

"If the tanks turn red, declare an emergency." said my Captain.

Climb power eats up fuel fast.

Passing 8000 feet we got the triple chime and red flashing lights, both tanks in the red. Low fuel.

"We are declaring an emergency. Low fuel. Requesting priority." I advised the controller.

At 10,000 feet we saw a huge storm ahead and requested 12,000 feet. We skimmed the tops.

The diversion airport was only 70 miles away.

Our dispatcher requested fuel on board again and altitude. We had 1500 in the tanks.

They quickly replied we needed 850 pounds to reach the airport. Comforting, but that was straight line. We had to make deviations for weather.

Once again I called the Flight Attendant and advised we had declared an emergency and would be on the ground in 7 minutes,and  we did not plan on evacuating the airplane. Flight Attendants have various plans when we declare based on time. With just 7 minutes they had time to tidy up the cabin and that's it. Since we didn't plan on evacuating there was no need to brief the passengers. For all they knew it was all okay.

I loaded up the FMS with the approach. Thankfully it was straight in to runway 29. Again reporting VFR. I tuned in the ILS and made it active so we would have a sense of where the glide slope was to stay as high as long as possible.

Once on approach I heard them giving holding instructions to various inbound aircraft, reason being....our emergency.

I picked up the runway 15 miles out. I advised the Captain we were above the glide slope.

Cleared straight in.

He made a great gliding approach. I saw several fire trucks standing by on the taxi ways.

Normal landing. When we turned off the runway we had just 700 pounds in the tanks. About 9 minutes of fuel.

Big sigh of relief.

Pulled into the gate and made a PA about just needing fuel and for the weather to clear.

Thirty minutes later we were on the way out. We had 4900 pounds of fuel. That was enough for our destination, holding for 30 minutes and another alternate.

Minor deviations. Easy VFR approach and done.


I asked my crew if they wanted food. They were fine. I headed up for a quick pizza.

Weather was still in the area for our flight back. Since we were so late we were pulled from the overnight.

My leg.

Climbing out I hand flew it up to FL210 as I worked my way around the weather. It's easier to hand fly than spin the heading knob and adjust the vertical speed.

Once clear I turned on the autopilot and took a bite of my now barely warm pizza....but not before snapping a photo of a beautifully ugly storm.


geetstorm1 geekstorm


I go back in a few hours for a quick turn....and fill out paperwork for the emergency.

Close on my new house tomorrow.

So much for , "no paperwork, no news."


  1. Awesome story, awesome pics!

    What was up with "that" FA?
    Times sure have changed since the good ol' days. Such lack of respect
    for the flight-crew would never have been tolerated years ago. Shameful.

  2. As a private pilot and platinum business flyer, I have nothing but respect for someone doing the job you do sir. That flight attendant should be drop kicked out his/her uniform/job! Ridiculous the loss of respect in the workplace these days!

  3. You should send that first picture to GMA or something. People are loving it! Thanks again for the great story.


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