Ask the Captain: How fast can a plane descend if cabin pressure is lost?

What is the most stressful flying situation you have ever been in?

– Dave, Knoxville, Tennessee

When I was 19 years old and flying as a first officer on a corporate airplane in 1972, we flew into icing conditions that were more severe than the airplane deicing equipment could handle.

The airplane iced up badly and began to descend even though we had applied maximum power. Finally we descended out of the clouds into snow. We continued and landed at Erie, Pennsylvania. The 30 or so minutes in the ice where we knew that we could not stop the descent as the ice continued to increase was the most stressful situation I have faced. 

I learned many lessons on that flight – chief among them a healthy respect for icing conditions. But that episode also taught me to act early in a deteriorating situation, not to panic and to respect the limitations of the aircraft.

Although it was 48 years ago, I still remember that flight clearly. I have never seen that much ice since, and never want to. 

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