Passenger Don Preston recounts a terrifying crash landing in answer to the question 'If a plane crash is certain, are the passengers informed?' on Quora. He has kindly given us permission to reprint it here, where we have edited it for length and style.
In 2000 my wife and I along with my 10 and 12-year-old children flew Spirit Airlines non-stop from Detroit to Los Angeles for a Disney vacation. My daughter and I were in the bulkhead seats on one side of the aisle while my wife and son were in row two on the other side. Twenty minutes into the flight we hear a loud bang and the plane immediately fills with a white cloud of vapor so thick we couldn’t see the person next to us. It wasn’t smoke because we didn’t cough though.
The pilot came on the intercom and said
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve obviously had a malfunction. The smoke will clear very quickly. (which it did). We will land at the closest airport which is Grand Rapids Michigan. Please hold on for more info.
So, everybody is pretty calm for a couple of minutes until the stewardesses began the crash positions talk. I was very calm and reassured my daughter that everything would be fine. HOWEVER, from our seats in the front row we could see into the galley where the two most senior stewardesses were openly sobbing and praying over a Rosary. Holy crap, this was serious.
A few minutes before landing the stewardesses began shouting as loud as they absolutely could "heads down", "emergency position". Non stop for six or seven straight minutes. They were really serious. And clearly afraid. The pilot had never relayed anything other than a calm "no big deal" demeanour.
It only took about 15 minutes for us to land smoothly on a runway in Ypsilanti, Michigan surrounded by fire trucks. Then the real problems began.
First off, I live in the Detroit area and just a few days prior to leaving there was a TV News segment on Spirit engine parts filling milk crates on peoples’ lawns in Detroit. Two weeks earlier an engine had fallen off a jet, making the local news only, and Spirit never bothered to even retrieve the parts. Where the hell is the FAA? I didn’t pay too much attention to it because that only happens to other people.
During our nearly full day stranded I had the opportunity to speak with the pilot. I asked him how serious this had actually been. After all, I saw Airport. A jet can fly on one engine. Right? Apparently not. He told me that when an engine blows you’re landing in 10 to 15 minutes. Airport or not. Simple as that.
So, the pilot doesn’t always relay the danger level and if you really want to know, keep an eye on the most senior stewards.