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7 Horrifying Aircraft Landings (in which no one died)

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Many people board an airplane flight thinking that if anything goes wrong, they will probably die. We board anyway, knowing that the odds of something going wrong are pretty small. In these seven stories, hundreds of passengers thought it was the end for them, but thanks to skilled pilots and crew members (and a fair amount of luck), they all survived to fly again. If they ever wanted to.

1. British Airways Flight 38

Beijing to London
16 crew, 136 passengers
January 17, 2008

On approach to Heathrow airport, the plane began to drop faster than it should. The engines had lost all power, and pilot Peter Burkill had to glide the Boeing 777 in to avoid crashing into the houses of West London. Observers on the ground were horrified at how low the plane came in. There was not enough time to warn passengers before the plane hit the grass short of the runway, and crashed. Four crew members and 15 passengers were injured, but there were no fatalities. The most serious injury was a broken leg. The cause of the crash was later found to be ice crystals in the fuel. Procedures have since been developed to deal with such an occurrence. Image by Marc-Antony Payne.

2. British Airways Flight 9

London to Auckland
15 crew, 248 passengers
June 24, 1982


On the leg of the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, the Boeing 747 ran into a volcanic eruption! Mount Galunggung threw a cloud of volcanic ash into the air, enveloping the plane. The ash was glowing with heat, and sulphuric smoke filled the plane. One by one, all four engines failed. Captain Eric Moody made an announcement:

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.

Moody put the plane into a dive to restore oxygen to the cabins. One by one, the four engines came back to life, although one failed again. The crew had to land the plane at Jakarta, even though visibility was bad due to the damaged windscreen. However, the landing was perfect and no one was injured in the incident. An investigation revealed that the cloud of volcanic ash did not show up on radar because it lacked moisture. Pilots are now trained to look for signs of volcanic eruption.

3. FedEx Flight 705

Memphis to San Jose
3 crew, 1 hijacker
April 7, 1994


Fedex flight engineer Auburn Calloway hitched a ride on the DC10 cargo plane, but did not plan to land safely. He planned to attack the crew members, crash the plane into the Fedex terminal, and let his family collect on his life insurance. Calloway knew he was soon to lose his job at Fedex and wanted to punish the company as well as provide for his family. Calloway entered the cockpit and attacked first officer Jim Tucker and flight engineer Andy Peterson with a claw hammer. Then he went for captain David Sanders, but the other two men, despite injuries, fought back and the three drove Calloway out of the cockpit. He returned with a speargun. Tucker and Peterson were seriously injured, and could barely fight back. As Sanders tried to control Calloway, Jim Tucker rolled the plane to throw Calloway off balance.

The DC-10 was executing a barrel-roll at nearly 400 miles per hour—something the aircraft had never been designed to do. Peterson and Sanders were shouting "Get him! Get him!" to each other, as the three struggling men were tossed about the galley area, alternately weightless and pressed upon by three times their weight in G forces. By now, the aircraft was inverted at 19,700 feet, and the alarmed air traffic controllers in Memphis were desperately calling for Flight 705

Tucker put the plane through more bizarre maneuvers to avoid more violence. He sent the plane into a dive past 500 miles per hour -faster than any DC10 had ever flown before. This was not intentional; Tucker's head injuries made his right hand useless at the controls. He managed to pull out of the dive. By this time, the Memphis terminal had cleared all runways for an emergency landing, although the ground crew did not know what was happening in the plane. Tucker landed the plane with Sanders and Peterson holding Calloway down on the floor. Calloway received a life sentence for air piracy and attempted murder. All three members of the flight crew sustained life-changing injuries and can no longer fly commercially.  The story was told in a book called Hijacked. Pictured is David Sanders receiving emergency treatment.

4. Air Canada Flight 143

Montreal to Edmonton
8 crew, 61 passengers
July 23, 1983


The Air Canada flight took off as scheduled despite the notice that the fuel gauges were not working. Although there were manual checks, there wasn't enough fuel to complete the flight. At 41,000 feet, fuel pressure indicators went off, and captain Bob Pearson decided to divert to Winnipeg. One engine gave out, then the other, and the Boeing 767 was just gliding. The tiny airport at Gimli was closer than Winnipeg, so the jumbo jet aimed in that direction. Pearson did not know that one of the airstrips at Gimli had been converted to a public racetrack and was in use that day. As the plane landed and skidded across 2,900 feet, spectators scattered as fast as they could. The ten injuries from the rough landing were minor. This Boeing 767 later became known as the Gimli Glider. There was not much danger of a fire upon landing, as all three fuel tanks on the plane were completely empty. An investigation of the incident found that the pilots and mechanics were at fault and that airline management contributed to the chain of errors that led to the plane taking off with insufficient fuel.

5. British Airways Flight 5390

Birmingham, England to Malaga, Spain
6 crew, 81 passengers
June 10, 1990


The quality of every part of an airplane is crucial to safety. Before flight 5390 took off, the left cockpit windscreen had been replaced by a technician who used the wrong size bolts. At 17,300 feet, the window blew out. Captain Tim Lancaster had just removed his seat belt and had set the plane to autopilot. The sudden loss of pressure sucked Lancaster out the window! His body was outside the plane while his feet became entangled in the controls, which disconnected the autopilot. Flight attendant Nigel Ogden grabbed the captain and tried to pull him back into the plane. Copilot Alistair Atcheson took control of the plane and sent it into a dive to an altitude where the pressure could be stabilized. Chief steward John Heward helped Ogden hold onto the pilot's legs. They could not pull him in due to the raging wind and cold temperatures at 11,000 feet. The crew, assuming Lancaster was dead, considered letting the pilot's body go, but decided that was too risky as it could be sucked into an engine or damage a wing. Besides, he was partially blocking the hole where the window once was. Atcheson landed the plane at Southampton, despite the fact that the airport's runway was shorter than recommended for the BAC 1-11 aircraft. Then the unexpected happened -captain Lancaster came to! He was hospitalized with a broken right arm and wrist and a broken left thumb as well as frostbite and shock. Minor injuries, considering he had ridden on the outside of an airliner at high altitudes for 18 minutes. Lancaster was the only person injured in the incident. He recovered and returned to flying a few months later.

6. China Airlines Flight 006

Taipei to Los Angeles
February 19, 1985
25 crew, 243 passengers


Ten hours into its flight, one of the Boeing 747's engines failed. The pilots did not follow procedures to balance the remaining engines and the plane went into a dive from 41,000 feet. Passengers were exposed to a force of 5Gs as the plane dove 30,000 feet! They dropped six miles in two minutes. Pieces of metal flew off the plane as it rolled and dived. The pilots could not orient themselves with the horizon until they were under the clouds at 11,000 feet, and regained control by 9,600 feet. The failed engine was restarted, and the aircraft made an emergency landing in San Francisco. There were only two people injured in the incident. Jet lag is thought to have been a contributing factor in the incident.

7. US Airways Flight 1549

New York to Charlotte, North Carolina
5 crew, 150 passengers
January 15, 2009


Just after takeoff from LaGuardia airport, the Airbus 320 ran into a flock of geese. Birds were sucked into the engines and they lost thrust. Visibility was down because of birds splattered against the windscreen. Captain Chesley Sullenberger requested a return to LaGuardia, then realizing they wouldn't make it, requested a landing at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Within seconds, Sullenberger knew they wouldn't make it that far either, and guided the plane into the Hudson River. The crew evacuated the passengers, who stood on the wings until they were picked up by the many commercial, private, and rescue boats who responded. Seventy-eight people had minor injuries, mostly from the evacuation. It was later called the most successful plane ditching ever.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.