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Listen to FedEx pilot tell ATC, ‘We’re going to declare an emergency’

written by Adam Thorn | March 14, 2022

A similar FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (WikiCommons)

This is the extraordinary audio that captured the moment a FedEx pilot told Air Traffic Control, “We’re going to declare an emergency” on Saturday night as his MD-11F approached to land at Sydney Airport.

The nearly 30-year-old aircraft, N576FE, eventually conducted a safe landing on its second attempt with emergency services not required.

The incident was first reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, which said the aircraft was experiencing “flight control issues” before a mayday was declared.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-11F, msn 48501, departed Singapore at 12:23pm on Saturday as flight FX9075 and approached to land in Sydney just before 10:30pm local time.

Data from Flightradar24 shows the pilot changed course from landing initially to head west over Brighton-Le-Sands and ascended to 3,000 feet.


The newspaper adds that the pilot asked to use the “full length of the runway”, before the MD-11F headed south over the Royal National Park and subsequently landed safely.

He was later hailed by air traffic controllers for his “very well handled” landing.

The ATSB said in a statement, “The ATSB is gathering further information into the circumstances of an occurrence where a MD-11 freighter aircraft conducted a missed approach and issued a mayday call while on approach to land at Sydney Airport on Saturday evening.”

Flightradar data shows this was the aircraft’s first flight in over a month, despite it often flying multiple times daily.

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Comments (3)

  • Geoff


    Reading the flight details for N576FE, it seems the aircraft flew to Singapore as FX9856 on February 5th( after many flights) then for some reason, seemed to remain at Singapore, until flight FX9075 March 12th. Maybe it was being serviced or??

  • Dave Rogers


    The FAA rules accord with ICAO when it comes to the declaration of emergencies. There is a clear distinction between a distress situation and one where the safety of an aircraft is in danger. Such is normally expressed by the captain of an aircraft, who is in the best position to assess such circumstances, with the use of either a Mayday or Pan call. The American oft used phrase ‘ declaring an emergency’ is really no help to controllers who are required to initiate specific actions depending on the urgency of the situation. Listening to this tape about the MD-11 at Sydney, the skipper obviously had a problem but he did not convey any sense of urgency or distress to the ATC officers. From what is available, it was only the controller who used the phrase ‘Mayday’ and this was quite understandable, given the position in which he was placed. No doubt the NTSB investigation may have some comments on this aspect of the emergency communications, especially those of the captain. I have always been taught and passed the same message to my students and anyone who flew with or for me, use the correct emergency calls and never ‘declaring an emergency’.

  • Darren


    The phrase “Declaring an Emergency” is accepted world wide as is the code MAYDAY, and is used as standard phraseology for many International Carriers. The PANPAN call is also used in many countries but not all, in fact it doesnt mean anything in many counrties around the world. “Declaring an Emergency” covers you in all circumstances, and makes one less decision for the crew and returns the focus back into handling the emergency.

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