Scary: Delta Flight To Ghana Risked Running Out Of Fuel Over The Atlantic, Returned To New York

On Monday July 25 Delta flight 9923 from New York JFK to Accra, Ghana headed out over the Atlantic and then diverted back due to fuel issues. The flight had already been delayed from the day before, reportedly due to a sick pilot, and was operated as a special extra section.

However the second attempt at the flight took a turn for the worse. About two and a half hours out over the Atlantic the captain announced that the Boeing 767 had a fuel issue, and that they would have to return to New York. Emergency crews met the plane on arrival.

A cabin crew member shared with passengers that the plane had a fuel leak. A pilot had been inspecting the wing through the window from inside the cabin prior to departure, leading passengers to believe there was a known maintenance issue prior at the time. In total the flight took 5 hours to depart and make it back to New York.

A passenger – Xiaomanyc with 5 million YouTube subscribers – shared just how scary the experience was to be over water and learn that the plane might not have enough fuel. He says they were told they believed they had two hours to make it back to New York, though I wonder if that was a misunderstanding and they expected to take about two hours to get back.

On arrival, emergency vehicles – “fire trucks and ambulances” – responded to the flight’s return. In the video the captain explains that the aircraft had a “fuel imbalance” in the form of a “huge disparity” in fuel levels between the aircraft’s two fuel tanks which couldn’t be resolved.

The Boeing 767 has left and right main tanks, and a center auxiliary tank. The aircraft’s ‘fuel config’ light would have turned on and an advisory FUEL CONFIG message displayed.

This may be caused by a fuel leak, which would also be indicated by less fuel remaining than expected or by excessive fuel flow (greater fuel pump output pressure in the lower balance tank). It could also be caused by engine damage – or just a notification system failure.

Assuming the engines didn’t seem to be damaged, pilots would have attempted to balance the fuel by opening the crossfeed valves and turning off the fuel pump switches for the main tank with the lowest quantity.

Now, a plane can continue to operate with a fuel imbalance. However two issues present themselves,

  • Frequently operating this way adds stress to the airframe, reducing the plane’s useful life
  • The imbalance may cause increased trim drag (lateral trim would be neeeded to maintain level wings) and therefore higher fuel consumption – so the aircraft would need more fuel than anticipated to reach its destination. Even if the plane technically still carried enough, pilots could project to draw down fuel below minimums, necessitating a diversion.

It’s not clear just how close to out of fuel this aircraft was. I aske Delta for comment on the incident but they did not share detailed specifics. Instead they offered,

Delta flight DL9923 on July 25, enroute from New York-JFK to Accra, returned to New York-JFK out of an abundance of caution due to operational reasons. The flight landed safely and customers deplaned as normal. The safety and security of Delta’s passengers and crew is Delta’s number one priority. Delta’s customer support teams at JFK were engaged on the ground to assist affected customers and Delta deeply apologizes for the inconvenience and delay of their planned travel.

Fortunately the pilots responded properly and got everyone back safely. And ultimately another extra section, Delta 9887, took passengers from New York to Accra on Tuesday. The occurrence aircraft was fixed and operated a flgiht to Atlanta two days after the incident, on Wednesday afternoon.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I have been watching Xiaomanyc for years, so I could see the normally light hearted and jovial Youtuber was really, really shook during and after this incident. Worth watching, especially as you note, he actually interviewed the very friendly Captain who explained the fuel imbalance issues by pointing out the relevant flight deck controls. Xiaomanyc’s fear on video taken during the flight is palpable.

  2. I wonder why they didn’t land at a closer airport. I realize they were over the Atlantic but presumably there were at least some airports closer.

  3. Only closer airport would have been BDA which would have presented all sorts of logistical problems. So only would have been selected if range was truly at risk

  4. Closer airports? Like where? Montauk? If there was a true emergency and there was a closer airport, of course they would land. Otherwise, it makes perfect sense to go back to JFK which has DL mechanics, extra crews, aircraft and, if needed, emergency equipment. The fact that the crash trucks met the plane on arrival means nothing – this is pretty standard when there is a situation like this.

  5. @Daniel – I was thinking the same thing, so plotted it out on gcmap. It appears that Bermuda was closer, to the south of the flight track, but considering the aircraft needed maintenance and passengers would need to be put on another plane, it was probably a conscious choice to return to JFK. If there was truly a chance the aircraft would run out of fuel or would have become dangerously unbalanced, BDA would have been the diversion point

  6. So, if it was that risky, why not land at Bermuda? That had to be closer than JFK. And it’s perfectly capable of handling a heavy 767. So, perhaps some of the accounts are being a little overdramatic in a situation that was surely concerning and frustrating.

  7. Clickbait. Does anyone actually think Delta put anyone’s lives at risk? Technical issue, and returned safely. These things happen. What blows them out of proportion is clickbait like this.

  8. lmao at the YouTuber. For real? No wonder he has five million subscribers. Talk about talking a routine return for a mechanical issue to the level of Hollywood drama, lol. My god, people are so gullible.

  9. This Captain is a true professional. Not only did he expertly handle the situation and put everyone’s safety first, he had the integrity and respect to explain to this YouTuber what happened. Delta should put this Captain’s face on every piece of marketing they own. This is how a professional airline Captain should look and act. Great job @deltaairlines

  10. Stuart? Why so cynical?
    Just because YouTubers are…..
    Oh, never mind.

  11. What an absolute joke of a video. “plane ran out of fuel” “near death experience”

    Good grief.

  12. there have been incidents where a leak is not recognized or handled properly and fuel is diverted to the leak, and the plane runs out of gas. Forgot which. So yes, this is lifethreatening.

  13. What are the diversion airports over the Atlantic? I think Gary has published this info previously and would have been useful to put the story into context.

    I never understand why the planes go back to the airport of origin rather than divert to somewhere en route and then continue the journey. Maybe a pilot can explain that to us.

  14. Well thank God everything was taken care of.im going to Greece in Sept on Delta they better have enough of everything on that ✈️

  15. that plane had 10 hours of fuel on board and flew for only 4.5, the fuel imbalance was perfectly explained to this guy but he goes on to post that video full of tears as if his life was in danger of crashing in the Atlantic? And its getting money now for it?

    this is some serious misinformation getting this guy paid!

    74 Gear has made commentary attempting to calm down the commentary, because this entire video and story, is hyped up well past what it actually was.

    I can tell you now, this needs to be updated as the story is hyperbolic just because the guy has 5 million followers, needs to be addressed as well.

  16. THIS IS WHY I DO NOT FLY DELTA!
    OLD 757,767,717,
    BEGINNING TO BREAK DOWN. UNREALIABLE!
    THAT IS WHY AA ELIMINATED THEM FROM THEIR FLEET.
    AA HAS THE YOUNGEST FLEET.
    BUT, GARY DOES NOT DISCUSS TGAT.
    IN FACT, THE DELTA AIRBUS A350. WERE USAIR ORDERS.
    WHEN AA AND USAIR MERGED. AA DECIDED TO GO WITH THE BOEING 787
    DELTA HAD NO NEW PLANES ON ORDER.
    SO, DELTA LUCKED OUT AND TOOK USAIR’S AIRBUS ORDER.
    GARY, TELL THE FOLKS DELTA 737 ORDER WILL HAVE THE SAME LAVS AND SEATS LIKE AA 737.
    AND THOSE DIRTY BROKEN DOWN IFE (INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT MONITORS COLLECT GERMS.
    AA WENT WITH STREAMING ON DOMESTIC NARROWBODY AIRCRAFT.
    CLEANER AND PREFERED BY MANY.
    AA OFFERS IFE ON ALL BEAUTIFUL 777,787.
    THOSE DELTA 757,767 ARE OLD. NEW INTERIOR IS LIKE PUTTING LIPSTICK ON A PIG!

  17. It’s click bait feeding click bait. All that’s missing is a few links pimping shiny bits of plastic

  18. As an airline pilot instructor, I find it fascinating the amount of conjecture, downright lies and misinformation can lead to this “hysteria” shown by most of the above comments. I don’t care which US Flag carrier you talk about, none will intentionally fly an aircraft that hasn’t been thoroughly inspected. Because this flight was conducted under ETOPS, even more inspections are made prior to departure. Additionally, the aircraft are machines. They occasionally have major malfunctions in spite of rigorous maintenance. With regards to diverting back to the original point of departure, there are numerous decisions made prior to a diversion whether it’s to another “suitable” airport or point of origin. The Captain has many resources and will consult all of them. While the Captain has the ultimate decision, it is not made in a vacuum. The carrier’s dispatchers, maintenance and weather departments, along with augmented flight crew and flight attendant inputs all go to the final decision. To the knucklehead commenting on the old 757, 767 & 717’s, I can assure you that a US Flag carrier will not keep any aircraft that isn’t fit to fly. You might recall that only recently a Flag carrier retired its MD-82s…easily 30+ years old. I agree…”clickbait” and I had to look!

  19. What a dishonest, clickbait article from Jeff Leff. I have no respect for the guy.

    And Xiaomanyc just lied. The plane never ran out of fuel and he knows it didn’t run out of fuel.

  20. Boo. Hoo. Hoo. Just another social media freak seeking attention. Yes, I would’ve been scared, too. So terrified I would’ve never even thought about recording it. He’s just looking for more views and trying to become famous like the rest of these so-called “influencers”. I’m beyond grateful that that plane landed safely. But never would I attempt to do what that insecure, self-absorbed reject attempted to do by publicizing his “fears” with hopes the world (which doesn’t really know him) actually cares for him

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