Video Of Cathay Pacific’s Terrifying Diversion Over The Pacific

Flight diversions are rather common, so in and of themselves aren’t really noteworthy. If anything, a lot of the attention from diversions seems to come from airlines handling them poorly, as Travis recently wrote about with United’s diversions to Goose Bay and Belfast.

But Cathay Pacific had a diversion yesterday on CX884, which is one of their frequencies between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. It’s interesting for a few reasons, including the fact that it happened over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there was video of the incident, and Cathay Pacific handled the situation in an exemplary way.

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Specifically, the flight was almost halfway through its journey when smoke was discovered in the cockpit. This is something which always terrifies me when flying over water, given the lack of diversion points.

The crew made the decision to divert the Boeing 777-300ER to Eareckson Air Station, which is a US Air Force Military Airport on the island of Shemya, part of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. Just to put into perspective how secluded this is, there’s the airport:

CX-Diversion

Equally interesting is that some passengers took video of the incident. Here’s one of the clips:

I totally got goosebumps watching that. The crew seemed to do a fantastic job, though as you can see in the video, they were preparing for a water ditching. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to be a passenger and be looking at the airshow and seeing that you need to get on the ground ASAP out over the open ocean.

And you can see the sense of relief when the pilot announced that they’d be landing at an airport.

Some may say I’m exaggerating by calling this “terrifying,” but I really think it is.

Of course this is a crappy situation, though Cathay Pacific really did seem to do a great job handling it, in terms of the crew, the social media response, the press releases, and the speed with which they got people out of there. Here’s their last press release on the situation:

Cathay Pacific Airways confirms that passengers who were onboard Flight CX884 from Hong Kong to Los Angeles on 29 July, which made a precautionary diversion to Shemya military airport in the Aleutians Island near Alaska, are now on their way to their intended destination.

The aircraft operating CX884, a Boeing 777-300ER, was declared serviceable after the technical issue that resulted in smoke being detected in the cockpit area of the aircraft was addressed. The flight departed from Shemya with all 276 passengers and 18 crew, arriving in Anchorage at 06:11 Hong Kong time (14:11 local time) today.

Meanwhile, the airline operated a special flight, CX884D, to Anchorage from Hong Kong. Passengers of CX884 were transferred onto this relief flight and departed for Los Angeles at 14:48 Hong Kong time (22:48 local time). They are expected to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport at 19:28 Hong Kong time (04:28 local time)

Cathay Pacific flew a team of ground staff from Vancouver to Anchorage to attend to passengers, while a team will greet them on arrival in Los Angeles to offer any necessary assistance.

Cathay Pacific Director Service Delivery James Ginns said: “Once again, we send our sincere apologies to the passengers of Flight CX884. We thank them for their patience and understanding during our efforts to fly them to their intended destination. Safety will always remain our top priority and we will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of this incident.”

So once the plane was declared serviceable they were flown to Anchorage to transfer to a “new” Cathay Pacific plane (flown in from Hong Kong), which would take them to Los Angeles. Furthermore, they flew in ground staff to Anchorage to offer support.

What a story, and thank goodness it ended well! While I’m sure it was a pain for everyone involved, kudos to Cathay Pacific for how they handled the situation.

Comments

  1. Saw the video this morning and not only did I get goosebumps as well but my palms were sweating for those aboard. It really is a nerve racking feeling specially while being over water. I think for the best when flying over water which happens every trip I take. Cathay did a great job and giving those aboard a compensation for the hassle was a nice touch on their part as well. So glad things ended well and everyone is safe. They arrived to LAX this morning at 4:45am. Kudos to CX and captains and crew.

  2. We get a lot of diverted flight passengers here in Anchorage. I sometimes meet them in bars or on the street and always welcome them. One was SUPER excited to see Alaska (even if it meant the rest of her vacation in Asia was cut a bit short).

  3. Wow, what a dramatic video you can really sense the tension. Must have been terrifying thinking you were going down in the middle of the Pacific.

    Amazed at how calm the passengers remained and what a great job the crew did.

    Well done all. Glad it ended well.

  4. So glad everyone was safe!

    Not sure how much time they spent at Shemya but they had 8.5 hours in Anchorage. Does anyone have any details on what they did with the passengers?

  5. Incredible how differently this was handled compared to what United did to those poor passengers in Goose Bay a month back. This is how it should be done!

  6. I agree, absolutely terrifying. Amazed at how calm the passengers are. You can sense the concern/fear in the FA’s voice when she is talking about “brace,brace” and “protect yourself” and I can’t blame her. Also, what appears to be a FA in in a gold west running back an forward in the galley would not help me keep calm in a situation like that, would only increase my own fear. But this is not a criticism of the FA, just an observation of how I think I would feel in a situation like that. Glad everyone is safe.

  7. Definitely seems terrifying to me being a passenger in that situation especially if you are halfway across the Pacific Ocean! Looks like Cathay handled it very professionally with the relief plane and even sending in extra crew from Vancouver for assistance.

  8. I wonder where they stayed during the delay and what kind of compensation they’re getting..

  9. Well done CX. And this is why it makes me a bit mad when people don’t pay attention to the safty demos. I know we all think we know what to do, and that we’ve heard it all before, but when those announcements start happening, I bet a lot of that flies out of your head.

  10. A water landing in the north Pacific, south of the Aleutian Islands…let’s not even contemplate that! If you survive the landing, you’ll be dead from hypothermia within minutes to perhaps a couple of hours at those water temperatures due to the rapid loss of core temperature in water (apparently about 32 times faster than in air). So glad it turned out well and to be sure, CX is to be commended for their handling of the situation (ie: compared to the fiasco of UA in Gander).

  11. The real hero in the whole situation was the bloke who managed to film the whole thing with his phone turned tin landscape mode while preparing for impending doom.

  12. Yeah my mom supposed to non rev with that flight. But It was overbooked so she end up with hkg to bos. That kind of stuff would traumatize her with flying. I guess overbooked flight not always a bad thing huh?

  13. Hey gang,

    I wasn’t on the flight but can give some basic info for the questions above:

    @Ivan Y: (Does anyone have any details on what they did with the passengers?) – They were in Shemya for about 5 hours. They were kept onbaord with the IFE turned on and snacks were distributed. Once in Anchorage, they deplaned and kept in a holding room. Similar to one of CX’s flight to Toronto back in the day where the A340-300 were used and they had to make a fuel stop in Anchorage. Once again, sandwiches were distributed.

    @JorgeC: (I wonder where they stayed during the delay and what kind of compensation they’re getting..) – See above and as for compensation – A $300 USD cash card. I’m sure there will be more like a refund, or fly for free on the next trip.

    @Tom: (I wonder if they could have landed there in winter?) – Sure! It’s one of our approved diversionary airports. But imagine the door open with the arctic air blasting through the cabin…Brrr!

    Cause of diversion – Smoke caused by a malfunctioning cooling fan under the flight deck. Aircraft deemed serviceable afterwards.

    Cheers

  14. Not sure that was the best thing to watch as I am waiting to board a Dreamliner from Santiago to Sydney. Also I am flying that flight number from Hong Kong in September.
    I better throttle back on the Cuvée champagne. Seriously so glad everything turned out Okay. Not sure I could stay as calm as they are talking about ditching the plane. Wow…

  15. If I remember my “please pay attentions”-that-nobody-pays-attention to, except on SouthWest (supposedly)
    Is the rule not that you put the jacket on just before leaving or is it inflation before leaving? Some of those look inflated to me?

  16. Agreed! The crew of that flight did an excellent job! Also the recovery effort by Cathay Pacific to turn what could have been a very bad situation / very bad PR and turn it into a quick recovery effort! This clearly show that the airline had plans in place for this kind of emergency and it is good to know that it all ends well!

  17. “Good chance we’re about to die a horrible death you say???”

    “Better get my camera out”

  18. Really wish I hasn’t watched that the day before a flight!

    Out of curiosity, were pax told to get ready to ditch at sea purely as a precaution? I would presume this would be an absolute last resort seeing as the chances of survival are so slim.

  19. @Mike

    So it’s more a case of the pilots being ready for the worst possible outcome despite it being quite unlikely?

  20. @Joe: They had begun the diversion already and as a precaution they had the cabin crew prepare the cabin for an emergency landing/ditching should the situation have become uncontrollable. If you are going to ditch, you have to do it while you still have control. When to make that decision? It is a tough one.

  21. @Mike

    So the fear was that the fire could cause them to lose control of the aircraft which would certainly be fatal ? Yeah that’s an awful position to be in.

    Would the pilots have any idea of which controls could be compromised or would it simply be a case of not being able to remain in the cockpit because of the smoke?

  22. @Joe: The pilots to be honest wouldn’t have any idea since they don’t know where the exact location the smoke was coming from! But when there is smoke, there is always assumption of a fire so you get the aircraft on the ground ASAP. As stated by yours truly above, the smoke was coming from a cooling fan below the cockpit in the baggage compartment. If that was a fire, that could’ve easily spread, burned wires and and pretty much engulf the entire cabin. Similar to Swissair 111.

  23. Glad that it all turned out okay, and it appears that CX really knew what to do to take care of the passengers. Bringing in CX staff from YVR was a smart use of resources to handle the confusion/chaos. I have to admit, that when something like this happens, its kind of bothersome to me that so many minds turn to “compensation.” I think I’d be more inclined to tip the crew.

  24. @Chris Totally agree! Unfortunately, that is the age we live in. The general public doesn’t comprehend the complexity involved in these machines, because flight has become so routine. I never understand people whining about mechanical delays. Would they have a temper tantrum if their car was having problems? I’d rather have a delay and a safe aircraft, because its not a matter of simple pulling over mid-flight to have a look! Kudos to CX for how they handled this. A very scary situation.

  25. Excellent outcome and great work by Cathay both in the air and on the ground – thanks for highlighting this story, Ben, and well done to the chap who filmed it too!

  26. “its kind of bothersome to me that so many minds turn to “compensation.” I think I’d be more inclined to tip the crew.”

    It’s kind of bothersome to me that so many minds turn to “let’s throw money at them for doing their job”… I don’t doubt they did an amazing job, but that’s precisely what they’re paid to do.

  27. Hey All,

    I was ‘that guy’ that decided to film this, its very interesting reading through all of your comments and kind words.

    I really cannot express enough how impressed i was with the way that Cathay Pacific handled this situation, true professionals!

    I made a follow up video ( https://youtu.be/Rn-4JC_KJE0 ) to this which helps fill in a few of the gaps. If anyone has any other questions feel free to send them to me via the comments in that video.

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