Loose horse leads to fuel dump near Vineyard

A similar Air Atlanta Icelandic plane needed to make an emergency landing in New York because of a loose horse. —Mehdi Nazarinia/WikiMedia Common

An Icelandic cargo plane purposefully dumped a load of fuel near Martha’s Vineyard because of an escaped horse. 

WCAI radio first reported that the pilot of the Air Atlanta Icelandic plane was cleared to dump 6,000 gallons of fuel over the Cape and Islands on Thursday, Nov. 9. The 20-minute process began 10 miles west of the Vineyard and completed over the ocean east of Nantucket. The Boeing 747-400F had been flying from John F. Kennedy International Airport for around 90 minutes before it needed to return to New York because of the loose animal. 

According to FlightAware, the plane was flying at an altitude of 22,000 feet when it circled around the Islands. It was headed to Liege, Belgium, before the horse got loose. 

Martha’s Vineyard Airport Director Geoff Freeman said the Federal Aviation Administration and flight control would have been the ones to make the decision on fuel dumping.

“That is a common procedure for large aircraft, in particular with emergency situations,” Freeman said, adding that fuel dumps are done over unpopulated areas like the ocean. 

Freeman said that planes fly on a “strict, lean balance,” and having too much weight can cause damage when landing. Dumping fuel for emergency landings like the Air Atlanta Icelandic return is a federally approved method for flight safety, Freeman said. 

A horse being loose also makes it difficult for the aircraft, its crew, and the cargo, according to Freeman. A loose horse means possibly over a couple of thousand pounds, depending on the breed, of shifting weight on the plane. 

“It’s all weight and balance,” Freeman said. 

Although Freeman did not comment on any potential environmental impacts fuel dumping could have, he did point out that fuel dumping is not required for every emergency situation. 

“There’s a lot of different factors,” Freeman said, pointing to an aircraft’s location and maximum landing weight as examples.


  1. Unless the horse was worth millions of dollars, and the pilot was worried
    that the horse would injure itself, I don’t understand why the pilot didn’t
    just continue on to Belgium and burn up the fuel on the way instead of dumping
    6,000 gallons of fuel in our waters! Maybe I’m wrong, but my bet would be that
    the horse would settle down after awhile, and even if it didn’t, I doubt it could cause
    the plane to crash. I imagine that the most dangerous time would be if the horse
    shifted its weight during landing, but that risk had to be realized in Belgium anyway.
    Maybe someone can explain why dumping 20 tons of fuel into the Atlantic ocean was necessary in this case.

    • Whenever an airline passenger is in serious distress the aircraft lands as soon as possible.

      “Maybe someone can explain why dumping 20 tons of fuel into the Atlantic ocean was necessary in this case.” I can. The healthcare of the horse.

  2. Ok– To those who are concerned about the possible
    environmental effects of some gear oil leaking
    out of the Vineyard Wind project, you can rest easy.
    This one plane dumped 6,000 gallons of fuel
    in the same area as the windmills.
    I don’t see anything in this article mentioning
    how many whales died or will die from this event.
    But of course, I will remember this event, and if any
    whales wash up on any beaches on the east coast
    in the next couple of years, I will simply blame this
    incident for their deaths.
    I won’t need any proof, just an hysterical opposition
    to the fact that planes often do this. Why wouldn’t
    events like this kill whales ?
    We will see. I will assert that more Whales will die as
    a result of this singular event than all the construction
    and running of thousands of offshore wind mills will.
    Prove me wrong.

  3. Here are some facts (dirty word, sorry) of the horse incident on the plane:
    1) There was 15 horses in specially designed containers on a 747 flight from JFK to Belgium
    2) At about 4PM EST the pilot notified ATC that one horse had broken out of the container and the onboard personnel were not able to re-secure it.
    3) The pilot then requested a return to JFK so the horse could receive medical attention. A veterinarian was requested to meet the plane when it landed
    4) In order to land the weight of the plane had to reduced by 20 metric tons. All commercial flights take on enough fuel to reach the destination with an additional safety factor. Taking on additional fuel (i.e. weight) reduces the efficiency (and cost) of the flights. In addition, all planes have a maximum gross weight to safely land.
    5) ATC cleared the plane to 22,000 over the ocean NEAR the Vineyard (not over it) in order to release this fuel. Fuel jettisoned above 5,000 feet evaporates before it reaches the surface. This process took approximately 20 minutes after which the plane was turned aback to JFK and landed.
    6) The horse was severely injured and had to be euthanized after landing.
    source: AVWEB

    • Bob– thanks for the details about this.
      Everything from the horse having to be euthanized,
      the practical reasons for the fuel dump, and the rules
      regulating such situations.
      Facts are not dirty to me.
      But, you might think that an aircraft that was transporting
      15 horses on a 7 plus hour flight , might have a vet on

      • Don, I know you will understand but I have to beat someone posting a clown comment.

        Do you think horses are more valuable than humans?
        Should vets be on all flights that transport animals?
        Should airlines have pilots and Doctors on board?
        Who will pay, will you?
        Planes should not fly

        • Carl , I really do appreciate you beating down
          my “clown comment”. But the way things are
          going around here I am surprised you are not
          asking WHICH humans I think are more
          valuable than horses.
          If I owned those 15 horses, I would likely
          pay for an on board vet.
          But as far as doctors and pilots ;
          there are 2 pilots in the cockpit and an autopilot
          that I think ? is capable of landing the plane.
          Peter ? Is that true ?
          As for doctors, as of May 2023 there were 1,077,311
          practicing full on licensed physicians in this country.
          There were also 5.6 million RN’s. Throw in
          students, regular nurses and orderlies and retired
          medical professionals and round it up to about 8
          million. That means on average there should be
          one person pretty well
          versed in medical issues for every 40 people
          on the plane. PLUS– the entire crew is trained
          in emergency medical care and they are
          equipped with defibrillators and other
          medical equipment.
          Why do you hate horses ? 🙂

          • Don, my apologies as I could have and should have been clearer in my comment. Your comment was not a “clown comment”. I was anticipating and trying to beat another frequent commenter here to posting a clown comment to your post. I was my poor attempt at humor.

        • I think that horses are worth more than 20,000 pounds of fuel in the water.
          I think that the aircraft is worth more than 20,000 pounds of fuel in the water.
          I think that the aircraft crew is worth more than 20,000 pounds of fuel in the water.
          A loose horse can cause sudden depressurization causing the airplane to crash.
          It is my guess that if the pilots did not not act the way they did they would be fired, and perhaps lose their pilot’s licenses.
          The really easy airplane operation decisions are made on the ground, well after the fact.

        • Judging from the reply to me by a frequent
          commenter about my math, you may have beat
          him to it, but that didn’t stop it.
          I got your humor– no need for the apology,
          but thanks.

      • Don, you might think that an airplane with 853 passengers on a 16 hour flight would have Doctor on board.
        You would be wrong.

        • Albert. You obviously know little about statistics
          and probability. Given the facts , if there are 853
          people on a plane, 3 of them should be doctors.
          That’s pretty good odds that. That means that
          1 out of every 27 planes would be doctorless.
          As for the others–
          60 should be Rn’s, and another 30 or 40
          should be well trained to some professional
          medical capacity. The odds are in the millions
          to one that you could get on a plane with 853
          people on board and none of them would be
          a trained and licensed medical professional.
          Not to mention the flight crew of course.
          And I don’t think it matters how long the flight
          is. Do you think that makes a difference ?
          Why do you bother to post ridiculous comments?
          You can probably get more attention by posting
          rational comments.
          See Carl’s comment above.

          • Exactly the point I was trying to make. You just explained my poor attempt at humor better than I ever could have. Lol.

    • Thanks Bob for setting things straight. I was just getting set to do the same thing. As a retired pilot who flew heavy equipment over very long distances, I can say that all your statements are absolutely correct.

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