The powerful winter storm system that swept across Central Europe this weekend nearly caused a massive air traffic disaster on Saturday in Hamburg. A Lufthansa jet struggled through 90 kilometer-per-hour (56 miles per hour) crosswinds on its approach into the Hamburg airport. After skidding dramatically across the runway in an aborted landing, the plane's pilot opted to take off once again.
All 137 people aboard the Airbus A320 en route from Munich to Hamburg eventually arrived safely at the city's airport, but only after their frightening brush with the runway on a first landing attempt, when a violent wind shear pushed the plane's left wing earthward, causing it to rock violently as it neared the runway. After circling the airport, the pilot landed safely on a second approach.
Though the incident occurred on Saturday, it did not make news until Monday, when footage of the near-disaster appeared on a Web site, liveleak.com.
"Those few seconds were indescribable," one passenger told German television station N-TV after arriving safely on the ground. A spokesman for Lufthansa told SPIEGEL ONLINE that some of the passengers were quite shaken by their turbulent experience. "Many did not handle it well," said Wolfgang Weber. "Some were near tears."
Weber said that the pilot, 39 year-old "Oliver A.", executed the emergency ascent and re-landing with skill and heroic calm. The pilot told Weber that he had often trained in a flight simulator for conditions like those that besieged his Airbus jet on Saturday -- training that he counted on as he guided the plane safely onto the runway on his second approach.
"A situation like that, where a gust of wind hits the plane right as it is landing, is one that our pilots train for time and again," said Weber.
The storm-level winds caused many flyovers at the airport on Saturday, said Weber, though the Lufthansa flight's attempted landing was the only dramatic incident. He added that the Airbus jet damaged in the incident had been repaired and would likely return to service on Monday.
A spokesman for the organization German Flight Safety (DFS), Axel Raab, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the attempted landing was more dramatic than any incident he could recall in German domestic aviation history. "It's extreme -- I haven't yet seen anything like that at a German airport," said Raab.
The low pressure system that caused the violent winds, dubbed "Emma," caused millions of euros in damage across Europe over the weekend and caused the deaths of at least 13 people.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained information from German wire service DPA that listed the strength of storm winds near the airport at 250 kilometers-per-hour (155 miles per hour).