Chinese pilot hailed as a hero after windshield blows out mid-air

Emergency at 32,000 feet

Today's expression: Hailed as hero
Explore more: Lesson #50
May 28, 2018:

Captain Liu Chuanjian landed a Sichuan Airlines flight safely after its windshield blew out mid-air, 32,000 feet above ground. The co-pilot was sucked halfway out of the plane and the temperature and air pressure in the cockpit plummeted. Captain Liu is being praised on social media for his efforts to save the plane. In the second half of the program, learn how to use "hailed as a hero" in English.

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A Chinese pilot safely landed a plane after the windshield blew out at 32,000 feet.

Hi everyone, this is Jeff and welcome to episode number 50 of Plain English, the podcast that goes at the right speed for English learners. You know, when I was researching podcasting before I started Plain English, I read that most new podcasts last only seven episodes. Seven! A lot of people quit too soon because they think nobody is listening or it’s too much work. I can certainly understand the temptation because there were not many people listening to the first seven episodes of Plain English, but I’m glad we stuck with it. We are now officially at our fiftieth program and I want to say thank you to all of you who are listening—there are thousands of you and your messages and your encouragement make it all worthwhile.

Now, speaking of making it all worthwhile, I wanted to let you know of one thing that I’ll be doing to help me cover some of the costs of bringing the program to you. In future episodes, you might hear me make a few brief recommendations for companies that are partnering with Plain English. You can help support the program by following the links and using the services that I mention. I will only talk about products and services I use and trust and that I think will be helpful to you. By having these partnerships, I can keep Plain English free to everyone—including the transcripts. Some English podcasts charge up to $20 per month to read the episode transcripts, but they are free here at Plain English and they always will be. So, keep an ear out for these messages in the future.

Just a real quick: if you want to follow along with the transcript of this episode, go to the newly redesigned web page and read along with the free transcript. Today’s episode can be found at PlainEnglish.com/50.


Pilot a hero after emergency landing in China

It’s the stuff of nightmares: A Sichuan Airlines flight, departing from the Chinese city of Chongqing at 6:30 a.m. Monday heading to Lhasa, Tibet, had just reached its cruising altitude of 10,000 meters, or about 32,800 feet, when the cockpit windshield blew out. Amazingly, the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

The pilot, Captain Liu Chuanjian, said: “There was no warning sign. Suddenly the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out the window.”

The co-pilot was saved by the fact that he was wearing his seatbelt. He was able to pull himself back into the cockpit and suffered only scratches and a sprained wrist, despite being partially out of the airplane as it was flying at its cruising altitude.

Meanwhile, the pilot continued by saying that everything in the cockpit was floating in the air. Most of the equipment malfunctioned and he couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard he couldn’t read the instrument panel.

If that doesn’t sound scary enough, the temperature of the cockpit plummeted to negative 40 degrees Celsius, the air pressure dropped, and the pilots had to deal with extreme sun exposure from being up so high and exposed to the elements. The plane plunged while the pilot grabbed his oxygen mask. After five or six seconds, he was able to retake control of the plane, an Airbus A319.

Incredibly, none of the 119 passengers was injured in the ordeal and the pilot was able to make an emergency landing just half an hour after the plane departed. A passenger said that the crew had just begun serving breakfast when the aircraft began to shake. The passengers obviously couldn’t see the windshield, so they didn’t know what had happened. The oxygen masks dropped from overhead and they felt the plane take a free-fall for a few seconds, before stabilizing again.

It’s not uncommon for a windshield to crack or break, but usually only the outer layer breaks. The most common causes are hail, lightning strikes, or crashes with birds. It’s extremely rare for the full windshield to crack like what happened in China. The aircraft in question was placed in to service in 2011 and had flown about 20,000 hours without any problems. Experts from Airbus, the manufacturer, arrived in Chengdu to help investigate what happened.

Captain Liu, meanwhile, is being hailed on social media as a hero who saved the lives of the passengers on board. The Twitter hashtag #ChinaHeroPilot generated 160 million views and almost 18 million comments on Weibo, a social network. Captain Liu is a former Air Force pilot and trainer who became a passenger jet captain after retiring from military service in 2006. In an interview subsequent to the event, he said “We’re trained for emergency situations like this all the time. When it happened all I was thinking about was just handling the flight landing well to guarantee the safety of all passengers and cabin crew.”

For those of us who have never flown a plane and can’t imagine the situation, he had this analogy: “It was like when you’re driving at 50 kilometers an hour, and suddenly the car is going 100 kilometers an hour, and your hands are out the window.”

I think it’s probably worse than that. Have you ever been the passenger in a car and stuck your head out the window? The airflow coming at your face at just 40 miles per hour is pretty intense. The crew would have had to contend with airflow much more intense than that while flying the plane to safety.

Captain Liu’s wife called him after hearing about the accident on the news. The captain replied, with understatement: “The plane is broken. I’m busy.”

About fifty of the passengers who had been on that plane took later flights to their destinations in Tibet.


I cannot guarantee that I would be willing to get back on a plane so soon after going through something like that. Wow.

Before today’s word, I wanted to share a little more about the program. You’ve heard me mention JR before. He is the producer of the show. He’s from the state of Veracruz, Mexico, and is living here in Chicago. He’s been with me since before Episode number 1—he was the first-ever listener and has been encouraging me since the beginning. He edits the audio, corrects my mistakes when I depart from the original version of the transcript, he publishes the web page for each episode, and does the Spanish translations too. Although you don’t hear his voice, he is a really important part of Plain English. And two other people help out each week, too. They are Paola from Brazil—she does the Portuguese translations—and Tao from China, who does the Chinese and French translations for the web site. So, if you haven’t seen the translations yet, go to the newly re-designed PlainEnglish.com, choose a topic that interests you, and take a look at the instant translations. If you do this regularly, then you have JR, Tao and Paola to thank.

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Expression: Hailed as hero