There are scenarios that you prefer not to imagine, especially not in all their facets. The “What if…” game is no fun if the outcome resembles a black hole. Because sometimes you don’t know what would happen if a certain event happened. An emergency landing is one such scenario. When you get on the plane, you look forward to your destination, perhaps to the obligatory tomato juice or the break from the constant accessibility above the clouds. What you don’t want to imagine is turbulence, horror scenarios like a plane crash – or an emergency landing. Unfortunately, this still happens from time to time, although extremely rarely.

It’ll be okay, you think. And he has the statistics on his side. It’s not for nothing that flying is considered one of the safest ways to get from A to B. The passengers of the Boeing 737 Max 9 must have relied on this last Friday on the way from Portland to Ontario. At least until part of the plane simply broke out shortly after takeoff – and instead of an emergency door, there was a huge hole in the plane. It was sheer luck that no one was sitting in the seat near the emergency exit and the emergency landing ended safely for all passengers and on-board staff. Some of them will probably only be left with the shock of the abrupt emergency landing.

But what exactly happens in an emergency landing? Anyone who has ever flown at least knows the typical safety instructions before departure and knows what to do in theory if something goes wrong during the flight: buckle up, stay calm, put on the falling oxygen masks, first to yourself and then to others Help, vomit bags are in the tray, the life jacket is usually under the seat. And yet you don’t know what exactly happens in an emergency unless you have experienced it before. Because: Every emergency landing is different.

And yet every single one of them begins with the pilot making the decision to abort the flight due to technical problems or an incident on board. People often talk about an “unscheduled landing”. In the event of minor technical problems, the crew still has enough time to prepare the landing so that it resembles a normal landing. This is called a safety landing. In the case of the torn-out part of the Boeing aircraft, however, this period did not exist – quick action was required. In this case, the pilot sends a “Mayday” call to the nearest radio station. This ensures that the air traffic controllers can show the pilot the safe route to the next airport without the plane crossing another.

Once on the ground, the aircraft is then evacuated. Long before the passengers board the aircraft, or more precisely when the aircraft is completed, the manufacturer must prove that an evacuation after an emergency landing is feasible within 90 seconds, even if half of the emergency exits are impassable – or no longer part of the aircraft would be. In practice, however, it usually takes significantly longer until all passengers have left the plane. In the case of Alaska Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 9, the whole thing worked – and no one was seriously injured.

Nevertheless, some passengers are now worried again. What if a part of my airplane suddenly comes loose? A question that is likely to concern many air travelers given the collective technical failure of Boeing’s series. From a purely statistical perspective, however, there is no reason for this. It is extremely rare for components to simply fall off – and Boeing has already taken the potentially affected aircraft out of service. The aviation authority also sees no reason to withdraw confidence in the entire series – most flights take place without incident. And yet it can still help to mentally prepare for a potential emergency landing. Of course, knowing that from a purely statistical point of view you don’t actually need this knowledge.