How Do I Know a Twin-Engine Jet Can Fly on Just One Engine?

Because I was at 30,000 feet when one of our engines quit, and I’m still here to tell you about it. That’s how.

It happened in 1974. I was living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, at the time, and my wife and I were flying to São Paulo. We were already familiar with Brasilia – where we’d lived for a couple of years – Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Recife, among other places of interest, but we had not yet visited Brazil’s largest city.

It was only an 80-minute flight – just long enough to get up to cruising altitude, have dinner and prepare to land. As the flight attendants were serving the passengers seated toward the front of the plane, the overhead lights on our (left-hand) side of the cabin suddenly went out, a muted bell-like signal to the cabin crew sounded, and we perceived a distinct deceleration and drop in the level of engine noise. A few moments later I realized that we were flying with the nose of the plane noticeably elevated – apparently to gain additional lift. The final clue that something was amiss was that the flight attendants immediately began collecting the dinner trays they had just been distributing. It took me only moments to realize the left-hand engine had quit and that the pilot was compensating for the loss of power. No announcement – reassuring or otherwise – from either the cockpit or the cabin crew was forthcoming, however.

As we came in to land, I saw a number of fire trucks lined up along the runway, confirming my understanding of what had happened. Disembarkation went smoothly, and as I got to the door I said to the flight attendant who was wishing us all a pleasant evening, “We lost an engine, didn’t we?” She just kept smiling, neither confirming nor denying my thought.

I suspect a similar situation in U.S. skies would have been handled a lot more candidly.

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