Key Points:

  • A Boeing 747, en route from New York JFK to Liege, Belgium, was forced to return after a horse broke free in the cargo hold.

  • The horse, one of 15 being transported, suffered severe injuries during turbulence and had to be euthanized upon landing.

  • The incident highlights the complexities and risks of transporting large animals by air.

Mid-Flight Emergency Due to Distressed Animal

A Boeing 747 operated by Air Atlanta Icelandic, carrying cargo from New York JFK to Liege, Belgium, experienced an unusual mid-air emergency on November 9. A horse, part of a shipment of 15, got loose in the cargo hold after partially escaping its stall. The aircraft had reached an altitude of approximately 31,000 feet when the crew reported the situation to Air Traffic Control in Boston, leading to an urgent decision to turn back.

Tragic Outcome for the Spooked Horse

The horse, which became agitated and managed to get its front legs over the stall barrier during turbulence, suffered significant injuries. John Cuticelli, head of the corporation managing animal quarantine and export at JFK Airport, described the incident as extremely rare and unfortunate. Despite swift preparations for veterinary care upon the plane's return, the horse's injuries were deemed too severe, resulting in the decision to euthanize the animal. The exact nature of the injuries was not disclosed, and the shipping company declined to comment.

Challenges in Animal Transport by Air

This incident underscores the inherent risks and unpredictability in transporting large animals, like horses, by air. The logistical constraints within the aircraft made it impossible for flight grooms to safely secure the horse back into its stall during the flight. Horses, which can weigh around 1,000 pounds, are loaded into heavily bolted shipping containers with narrow stalls, making in-flight intervention difficult. Following the diversion, the flight was delayed by about three hours, eventually landing in Liege the following morning.

Broader Context of Animal Escapes in Aviation

While the transport of performance and breeding horses by air is typically safe and routine, this episode highlights the challenges posed by the flight nature of horses and the potential for unexpected injuries. The incident is notable in the context of animal-related problems in aviation, emphasizing the need for careful planning and handling when transporting animals by air.