“It was a miracle” were the only words a Pan Am pilot could find to describe landing his plane safely after a wing fell off and the plane caught fire in mid air. The mishap occurred in 1965, during the Viet Nam war. The plane had been on its way from San Francisco to Hawaii.
It had only been in flight for a minute or two when an apparent engine fire and explosion caused the engine to separate from the wing. The aircraft spewed debris over South San Francisco before lumbering in the air long enough to make a shallow turn towards a divert field. By the grace of God and some miraculous flying by the crew, the severely damaged plane somehow managed to land safely at Travis Air Force base, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.
As the wing blew off and the plane caught fire, the Captain came over the loud speaker and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are experiencing some minor difficulties… well, perhaps not so minor.” The passengers laughed nervously as the Captain explained that they would be landing at Travis.
Minutes later, the Captain kept his promise, lowered the landing gear manually and touched down at Travis AFB. Everyone on the plane was safely evacuated. These were the days before cell phones made it so easy to take pictures. Still, two of the plane’s passengers happened to have an 8mm camera with them, and were able to take amazing footage of the scene.
The Captain said he had no idea what caused the problem. It could have been a bird flying into the wing, or it could have been engine failure.
The day wasn’t finished though. Pan Am sent a second 707 to pick up the passengers from the first flight and take them to Hawaii. On landing, the nose gear of the second jet collapsed leading to the second emergency of the day for Travis AFB! Finally, a third 707 was sent to the Air Force Base. That plane landed safely at Travis AFB and continued on to Hawaii.