UAL486 emergency landing due to cracked windshield



This is the diverted flight.


SEATTLE – A cracked window forced a flight from Sea-Tac Airport to make an emergency landing in North Dakota on Sunday.

Officials said United Airlines flight 486 was on its way to Chicago when the captain’s window cracked about 8:20 p.m. Central Time.

The pilot declared an emergency and the plane landed safely in Bismarck.

None of the 125 people on board the Airbus A319 was injured.

AJ Montgomery, a resident of Gig Harbor, was on the flight and took a photo that showed the window covered with several large cracks.

It was not known what caused the window to crack.

United Airlines officials said another plane was being brought in to take the passengers on to Chicago.

“It was not known what caused the window to crack.”

I’d say it looks pretty obvious what caused the window to crack. You can see a perfect imprint of the profile of a large bird. But if it was a bird, you’d think the pilots would know it was a bird.


Only looks like a bird. If you look at the flight history they were at 37,000 ft. when it let go, not many birds up there.
We lost one just about like that on the G2 last year. It just let go, big bang, no loss of pressure since it was only the outer heated pane. We were already in the descent, it just bought us an extra couple of days waiting for a replacement window to show up. In Beirut.
The spot you are looking at probably is part of that outer pane that is somewhere in North Dakota now. A small part of our window also slowly peeled away as we descended, different part of the window but looked just like that.
There are several possible reasons, slightly mis-torqued bolts causing a slight
uneven pressure on the glass. Or the windshield heat had a partial failure causing a cold spot in an otherwise warm piece of glass. Most likely the bolts which might take months or even years before it caused the failure.


They were at FL390.

Seems I’ve heard of many similar incidents in this series Airbus. Granted, this happens on all types of aircraft but this time I’m blaming the French. :stuck_out_tongue:

Nice of United to get another plane out there five hours later (from ORD). What is Denver, 40 minutes away?


390, you’re right. I didn’t check the flight track.
I don’t know what the Airbus flight manual says so I won’t second guess them. (Heck with it, yes I will) Unless it says land as soon as possible, Denver would have been my choice too.


Did you check out the descent profile? 20,000 feet in two minutes?


I didn’t mean they should divert to Denver but rather send a replacement aircraft from Denver, ASAP.


I didn’t figure it out, but I did see it was pretty high. They obviously treated it as an emergency descent. The news article didn’t say if they lost pressure, I guess I assumed that since it wasn’t mentioned that the pressurization remained normal.

Again I don’t know what the Airbus or United Flight manuals say, in our airplane you can even takeoff again as long as pieces are not missing, and the cracks are only in the outer pane. You have to then assume no windshield heat and you keep the differential close to half of normal which means it would realistically be a short flight to a maintenance facility. In our case, and it looks like in United’s as well, that was not an option because of the loss of some small pieces of glass.

As far as Denver is concerned, maybe they didn’t have an aircraft available. Who knows.


Yeah, I’ve popped a window too. Sounded like a gunshot. Certainly wakes you up. Like Porterjet, mine was the outer protective pane. Shut off the windshield heat, reduce the PSID and continue. We got a lot of strange looks from the ramp guys as we taxied in.


I was on the flight and was the one who shot the photos that you are all seeing on TV and the internet. I was seated in row 21 at the time of the incident, heard nothing, first indicator was the sudden decelleration and dive invoke by the the flight deck. Was a moment of near weightlessness.

We decended rapidly and were at a very low altitude for the last bit of the flight prior to landing at Bismarck. Crew did a good job, passengers were very worried, but remained calm.

Let me know if you have questions about the experience and I will share what I can. Be sure to check out my images at


Thanks for fotos and info, please tell us everything. Did the cabin depressurize? Were there any announcements or did they just start the rapid decent? How was United in explaining things once you were on the ground? Did they compensate you for the experience? What was the captain drinking?


No depressurization. All was "text book"regarding response. The crew was per the books. No formal compensation from United.


I’m not familar with those books. Glad it all worked out for you and thanks for the pictures. I still wonder what the captain had in his big gulp. :stuck_out_tongue:


At the time of the incident, the captain put us in a steep dive and decellerated noticeably. We experienced a weightless feeling due to the radid decent and immediately the crew jumped into action. They were yelling to passengers; “Get in your seats and get your seatbelts fastened now . . .” as they scurried about getting emergency equipment out of storage locations. The general sense was mild panic, passengers were not unruly or freaking out. Of course there was a lot of talk and uncertainty, as well as worry regarding the situation.

A few minutes after the initial occurrence, the captain informed all of us what had happened and that we were going to make an emergentcy landing in Bismarck. He told us that there was a “small crack” in the windshield and that as a precaution, we would be landing immediately.

Upon landing, we were treated well and made comfortable while we waited for the second aircraft to arrive in order to complete our trip to Chicago.


As someone else who was on the flight, there were four things that stuck out in my mind as we began to suddenly descend without warning.

The first was the announcement by the attendant for everyone to immediately get in the seats and fasten seat belts NOW. This happened a few seconds after we started descending. The second was the pilot’s first communication about an a cracked windshield with the need to do an emergency landing in Bismarck. This was within a minute of quite a rapid descent. The next was a woman passenger flagging down an attendant and then going up to the front with her–only to come back seconds later and ask a passenger that was sitting next to the window exit seat, to get up so that she could sit there (apparently the woman passenger was an off-duty attendant). Then within another minute or so, the attendant coming over the air and reminding everyone this was an emergency landing and that when we landed we were to get off the plane immediately upon instruction and leave all our luggage on the plane.

Those four things along with this big dip–gave the impression this was a serious situation.


It would be interesting to hear from someone who was listing to ATC while on the flight. I know some UAL/TED flights allow you to listen to the aircraft’s radio from your seat.


Interestingly enough, a passenger seated next to me was an engineer with Boeing and had been monitoring the audio prior to the incident. When it occurred, he immediately put on the headset and found that they had disabled the audio and he was not able to hear the communications anymore.


Interesting that disconnecting audio feed is high up on the checklist:
ḑ Thrust Levers Back
ḑ Nose Down
ḑ Disconnect Audio Feed
ḑ Contact Center - Declare Emergency

I guess you DEFINITELY want to do #3 BEFORE you do #4!

Doing #4 before #3 would result in sheer terror troughout the cabin. If one person heard the declaration through the headphones, then word would’ve spread throughout that the entire windshield was blown out and that everybody was gonna die!