In the News: Horse Forces Unscheduled Landing at JFK

Last week an Air Atlanta Icelandic flight was forced to turn back to New York City after a horse broke free from the plane’s cargo. Here are updated details of the incident as well as the outcome.

Editor’s Note: Upon initial publication of this story, the state of the horse was not fully known. Therefore, we made light of the incident based on partial information and picturing horses that can be escape artists. We have since updated the article to reflect the severity of the situation. 

UPDATE: According to CNN, the horse that partially escaped its stall had to be euthanized due to the extent of its injuries. Apparently, the plane hit turbulence, which caused the horse to spook and jump nearly halfway over the front barrier of the stall. The horse was hung up with his front legs over the barrier and his hind legs still in the stall. Despite the wide array of veterinary assistance and equipment available once the plane landed, the horse’s injuries were deemed too severe for the horse to survive, so humane euthanasia was performed.

Many online critics have questioned where the grooms and handlers were while the horse was struggling on the plane. The truth of the matter is that it would have been nearly impossible for the flight grooms to get the horse back into his stall safely in mid-air due to the logistics of how horses are flown.

Before being put on the plane, the horses are loaded into large shipping containers with three narrow stalls per container. Those containers are then lined up inside the plane, making it impossible to open a stall door mid-flight. There is enough room for the horses to hang their heads over the front of the stall in order to eat and drink, but the aisle is too narrow to maneuver should there be an issue with a horse.

These photos are good examples of how horses fly:

These posts are from the Facebook page of Lazcar International. They are not related to the story directly. They are just to give you an idea of how horses travel by plane.

Last week, a horse on a flight from New York to Liege, Belgium got loose on the plane, forcing the Air Atlanta Icelandic flight to turn around and make an unscheduled landing at JFK.

Boeing 747. Wikimedia commons.

According to air traffic control audio, a 747 cargo plane heading to Belgium from New York was forced to return to John F. Kennedy International Airport after a horse escaped from its stall. The audio clip, which was obtained (and you can listen to if you feel so inclined) by You Can See ATC via Live ATC, indicates the horse got loose within 30 minutes of takeoff. The Boeing 747 had barely reached 31,000 feet when the pilot contacted air traffic control and reported that a horse had escaped from its stall and that they would need to return to JFK.

The pilot reported, “We are a cargo plane with a live animal, a horse, on board. The horse managed to escape its stall. There’s no issue with flying, but we need to go back to New York as we can’t resecure the horse.”

The flight in question was forced to make a U-turn off the coast of Boston. Due to the plane’s weight, it had to dump about 20 tons of fuel over the Atlantic before it could make its emergency landing at JFK. The pilot also requested that a veterinarian be present upon arrival at JFK because “we have a horse in a problem.”

The flight was able to resume its course, just a bit later than planned. It arrived successfully in Liege on November 10, 2023.