Herald staff have shared more of their terrifying flight experiences. Read on, if you dare...


My flight into Wellington was the last one they let go before all the rest were cancelled due to a storm. Most on the plane had already been on another flight that had tried landing in Wellington and instead come straight back up to Auckland.

Coming in to land, the plane was shuddering so much and the wings tilting from side to side so violently that I thought one of them was going to hit the ground. We were nearly touching the runway, then suddenly the plane swerves up again and over the intercom the pilot goes: "Whoops, missed the runway there folks!"

Everyone groans, we circle around and come down again. The plane is shuddering, people are screaming, I'm trying to read my book to distract me. We finally land and everyone applauds enthusiastically because, of course, we felt as if we had all nearly died.


— Rosie Herdman

Third time's a charm

I didn't pay my companions much mind until the eventful end of our flight to the Galapagos Islands. The pilot made three attempts at landing in high winds and the second was genuinely terrifying for a number on board. On the third go, as passengers sobbed, the determined pilot touched down to a huge round of applause. When we disembarked, the airport staff said our second landing attempt was one of the diciest they had seen.

— Eleanor Barker

A bumpy country drive

"Bumpy four-wheel drive. Bumpy four-wheel drive."

The small plane lurched and shuddered and I just sat rigidly, repeating this mantra in my head, pretending I was on a road, on fixed ground, anywhere but here. This was, I told myself repeatedly, just a bumpy four-wheel drive.

We were en route from Palmerston North to Wellington. When the pilot came over the intercom, his voice was a crackled haze. I couldn't understand a word, but I assumed that, any minute, I would be donning an oxygen mask. Outside was white-grey-blank.

Constant cloud. Zero visibility. Then we lurched some more. Dropped down, down, down. I could see a runway, but this was definitely not Wellington. The capital's city's vile weather had foiled our landing and we'd simply kept going. "Welcome to Blenheim," said the captain. At least there would be wine, I thought.

— Kim Knight

Turboprop terror

I was flying on a small turboprop plane from Sydney to Albury in regional New South Wales. Although the weather was fine when we left, we flew into a storm of epic proportions. The turbulence was terrifying and the propellers were getting louder and louder as they fought against the wind. Before we could land safely, we were stuck circling in a holding pattern for an hour — and the flight was only meant to be an hour to begin with. When we finally landed, everyone clapped — it was the only time I've experienced that. As I walked across the tarmac, the wind was so strong it ripped to shreds the paper bag I was holding.

— Eli Orzessek

A near miss

Flying into a small airport in Thailand we landed normally but shortly after the wheels touched the tarmac, the pilot suddenly did a hard left turn that threw all the passengers sharply to their right. Everyone was looking at each other with a "what the hell was that?" look. As the plane eventually stopped and we waited to exit the plane the pilot came on the PA and said "sorry about that sharp turn there. I noticed a small plane in the corner of my eye and thought he was landing on our runway".

— Cameron McMillan

Plan B

Before landing in a wintry Invercargill, the pilot let us know we would landing in icy and windy conditions. "It'll be a tricky landing," he says. "But we'll give it a crack anyway." With our bums clenched, he gave it a go ... then chose Plan B: landing in Dunedin.
— Daniel Simmonds

The more you know

Got the reverse, for what it's worth. I used to work in Lyall Bay, looking out my window at the planes coming in from the south. There's a spot over the bay where they just drop, maybe 20m or so, and carry on. Saw it very often, and have found it's quite helpful to know about when it happens to the plane you're in.

— Simon Wilson

A shaky honeymoon

Flying from Rarotonga to Aitutaki for our honeymoon, was the bumpiest flight I've ever been on — more than just turbulence aboard Rarotongan Airlines' slightly rickety plane. The stewardess had to cancel the drinks service to approximately 12 terrified passengers after she tripped and fell with hot drinks.

— Nathan Hart

Strong turbulence can make a flight that much more terrifying. Photo / Getty Images
Strong turbulence can make a flight that much more terrifying. Photo / Getty Images

You learn something new every day

As an ex-Wellingtonian now living in Auckland, hair-raising landings on trips back to see my family are a somewhat regular event to be endured.

I last went down in late-February and the contrast between take off and landing was stark and quite frankly terrifying.

Leaving a balmy Auckland summer behind, I was plunged some 45 minutes later into what felt like a tiny, localised hurricane.

Rain whipped at the window and I wished I was sitting in an aisle seat so my direct line of sight wasn't drawn immediately to the plane's right wing, which was wobbling like crazy.
"Surely a plane's wing is not built to withstand so much wobbling," I thought to myself, convinced it was going to snap off at any moment.

In the end I got so stressed I just accepted my fate and read my book, figuring I might as well learn something new before plummeting to my inevitable death.

After miraculously landing intact, wing and all, I texted a friend who takes the same route frequently for the same reason as me.

"Oh yeah," she replied. "Last time I literally closed my eyes and thought of everyone I loved."

I'll consider that for next time.

— Tess Nichol

A storm in the Congo

In May of 2000, I was flying on the now-defunct Belgian carrier Sabena from Brussels to Johannesburg. It was on a DC10 and it was a day flight. I had a window seat and over Central Africa I could see black clouds getting close and closer in front. It was getting bumpy and the pilot in a very calm manner said there was a major storm in front of us and we are going to try to go around it. He explained the planes are designed to cope with weather like this. A few second later he banked sharply to the left and sure enough we skirted the outside of the storm, which seemed to cover the entire Congo. There were drops and rises and I remember clinging to my armrest for a few minutes. It was a scary experience but the cabin crew explained it was a regular occurrence on the route.

— Matt Brown

Former Prime Minister John Key on the NZ Air Force Hercules flying from Dubai to Baghdad. Photo / Pool
Former Prime Minister John Key on the NZ Air Force Hercules flying from Dubai to Baghdad. Photo / Pool

Shared trauma with the PM

Living in Wellington offers its fair share of hairy landings, but my two most sphincter-puckering experiences were on overseas trips with former PM John Key in the Air Force Boeing 737 and Hercules.

One involved a lightning storm as the PM's delegation flew into Sao Paulo on a trip around South America in 2013. It was late at night and lightning strikes were flashing all around the plane, something Key's wife Bronagh later said was one of the most terrifying experiences of her life. It is perhaps fortunate that most of the media delegation were afflicted with a stomach bug and did not really care if they lived or died at the time.

The second involved a string of take-offs and landings amid dust storms, fog, aborted landings, and so-called "tactical landings" and takeoffs to try to avoid being blown out of the sky by enemy forces on a trip to Iraq in 2015. "Tactical landing" translates as drop like a stone from a great height in a lumbering Hercules, desperately holding on to both the contents of your stomach and the webbing so you did not land on the SAS soldier next to you.

It was how we landed first in Baghdad and then eventually in Taji in the middle of the night.

Bullet-proof vests and helmets were also donned lest a stray bullet rip through the fuselage and hit you. But the worst place to be was next to the bucket that served as a toilet in the Hercules.

The take-off from Taji was worse. A duststorm meant the Hercules could not land to get us out so US Army Chinooks offered their services. We churned up through the dust, armed soldiers hanging out of the open doors at the back of the chopper keeping an eye out for the enemy. Neither they nor we could see a thing and before too long, we'd landed back in Taji until the Hercs got us out later that night, amidst great flashes of light as they set out anti-missile flares.

— Claire Trevett

Listen to the safety briefing

We were flying aboard a Royal Brunei 767, in 2007, from London to Auckland, via Brunei.
There was a loud noise, just after take off, followed by a thud about 10 minutes later while the plane was still climbing.

There was an immediate sense that it was more than just a minor malfunction, or one of those plane sounds you often hear, and it was enough to startle most of the passengers around me. For a time there were various noises — like a truck grinding through the gears. The pilot came on to tell us that one engine was out but the other was fine and operational. That provoked some murmurs, frowns and I think even tears from one lady across from me.

There were further noises — and the sight of cabin crew shuttling up and down the aisle — before a second announcement, when we were told that the plane would have to turn around, and make an emergency landing at Heathrow. There were more tears around at this stage, and complete strangers either trying to reassure each other, or sat in stony, shocked silence. One man seemed to be hyperventilating. My principal memory was wondering about those safety briefings that I hadn't really paid attention to over the years.

There were plenty of white knuckles as we came into land, and it was pretty bumpy, followed by immense relief when the wheels were on the tarmac. We later found out later the runway at Heathrow was closed for almost two hours after we landed, as they searched for debris left from our earlier takeoff.

The sting in the tail was being forced to hang around in a small area of Heathrow airport for five or six hours that afternoon. We were given some food vouchers, but the only thing available was soggy sandwiches from Boots the Chemist.

— Michael Burgess

Certain flights will make you wish you'd listened to the safety briefing. Photo / Getty Images
Certain flights will make you wish you'd listened to the safety briefing. Photo / Getty Images

Not to worry

You don't have to be on board a plane to have a scary flying experience. Away fishing in Scotland, I was waiting to pick up my dad in Aberdeen airport. He never turned up.

I tried to call but had no reply. Hours later he arrived with a rental car and a story.

During an exceptionally loud takeoff, something had fallen from the undercarriage of his plane. A nervous announcement from the captain confirmed "we think it might have been the landing gear".

The plane was diverted to Edinburgh which had a longer runway and more fire engines on standby.

Although the plane landed safely he had to drive the remaining 200km. It was only well into the trip and a dram or two of Aberlour that I finally got the story from him.

What was he doing while all the other passengers were making calls home and counting their rosaries, I asked him why didn't he try to get in touch?

"I didn't want to worry you."

—Thomas Bywater