Emergency slide detaches from United Airlines B767 approaching Chicago

A United Airlines Boeing 767 on the tarmac.
John Taggart from Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, July 17, 2023, an unusual incident unfolded in the vicinity of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), involving a United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER.

United Airlines UA12 Zurich – Chicago

As the aircraft, which was operating as flight UA12 from Zurich, was approaching to land, an emergency slide unexpectedly detached and landed in the backyard of a residential home, approximately four miles from the airport.

Fortunately, there have been no reports of injuries during this unusual event. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated an investigation to uncover the underlying factors and the cause of the emergency slide deployment.

Flight crew were unaware of the slide detachment, which was subsequently noted by maintenance staff following the uneventful landing at Chicago O’Hare.

A suburban security camera captured the Boeing 767 in flight, and footage posted to social media shows the slide assembly floating downwards.


Automatic vs. Manual Deployment

Emergency slides are an integral part of an aircraft’s safety system, designed to deploy automatically in critical situations during an emergency landing.

However, they can also be activated manually by the crew if deemed necessary. In this particular incident, it is unclear whether the emergency slide might have been manually deployed by someone on board, leading to its unexpected separation from the aircraft.

Accidental Deployments

Accidental deployments of emergency slides are not entirely uncommon in the aviation industry, although they typically occur whilst the aircraft is on the ground.

Despite rigorous safety measures and training protocols, the intricate mechanisms of these slides can sometimes result in unintended activations. While rare, such incidents do remind us of the complexity of aviation equipment and the need for constant vigilance.

This is not the first time a United Airlines aircraft has experienced an emergency slide deployment incident.

In 2014, a United Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Wichita after an emergency slide was accidentally deployed inside the aircraft cabin during the cruise.

In that instance, the slide deployed internally whilst the aircraft was enroute from Chicago to Orange County.

The slide from this week’s Chicago incident has been retrieved by investigators as part of their review.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 3 Min Read
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