Early yesterday morning a KLM 747-400 touched down at Hong Kong International Airport in the midst of a fierce typhoon. It would turn out to be the only plane that landed during the storm.
Typhoon Hato tore through Hong Kong on Wednesday, knocking out power and grounding all incoming flights during an intense five hour period…except for one KLM flight.
Just moments earlier an Ethiopian Airlines 787 attempted to land, but aborted and diverted to Xiamen on the Mainland. And it wasn’t just Ethiopian. Many airlines proactively cancelled flights, with HKG departures reduced by 65% yesterday.
The KLM 747 landed in between bursts of rain during a period in which crosswinds became headwinds. By that account, the landing seems perfectly reasonable.
But some are questioning whether the pilots were wise in landing the aircraft. They point to the China Airlines Flight 642 incident and note that an unexpected change in wind direction, not uncommon during a typhoon, could have flipped over the aircraft, leading to unnecessary deaths. Planning for a potential diversion, KLM also had an extra 90-minutes of fuel onboard which could have ignited.
Personally, I am not going to play armchair pilot. I trusted KLM pilots with my life earlier this year and would do so again. KLM has an impeccable safety record.
KLM naturally backed up its flight crew, stating–
Safety is our highest priority, we never compromise on that. The KLM flight landed before the wind reached its peak.
My only concern is for the poor passengers who had to exit the aircraft via air stairs because conditions were too windy to use jet bridges. Once inside the terminal, they had to wait for hours to complete immigration formalities and retrieve their baggage. With bad weather, the Hong Kong Metro was shutdown and most of the airport was essentially shutdown as well.
But everyone made it safely and probably a lot quicker than if the KLM flight had diverted…
I would have been proud to fly KLM on that flight.
Image: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons