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Can a Human Get Sucked into a Jet Engine?

Despite providing all the thrust needed to get – and keep – a jet in the air, jet engines are surprisingly larger than they look in photos. So big that some jet engines are bigger than the average person. So could you get sucked into a jet engine?

Yes, a human can absolutely get sucked into a jet engine. This generally only happens if you get too close and ignore all safety precautions set out by the airport/airfield designed to prevent this. 

Can a Human Get Sucked into a Jet Engine?

Though it is incredibly rare thanks to the great pains that are taken to avoid it, humans can definitely get sucked into a jet engine under certain circumstances. 

If the jet engine is powered up, even if idling, the engines require huge volumes of air to work. To that end, jet engines use a compressor to “suck” the air through the engine. 

Requiring an estimated 1.2 million tons of air per second, these compressors are incredibly powerful to say the least. So much so that even if idling, the suction the engines create is powerful enough to lift an adult human and suck them into the engine. 

But it’s not just humans that can get sucked through a jet engine either. Since the invention of jet engines, they’ve sucked in pretty much everything including but not limited to:

  • Cargo/baggage containers/pallets
  • Maintenance tools
  • Passengers’ baggage
  • Ramp equipment
  • Food
  • Animals (often birds

Indeed, some individual aircraft have gained something of a reputation for sucking people in, in particular. 

The US Navy’s Grumman A-6 Intruder was perhaps the most famous of frontline US jets, whilst 737s, L-1011s and DC-10s have gained a similar reputation among airlines the world over.

International Lockheed L 1011 TriStar 500
Aero Icarus International Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 500

Is it Possible to Survive Being Sucked into a Jet Engine?

Sadly, the answer is no. To date, no one has survived being fully sucked through a jet engine. That being said, many have survived after being partially sucked into a jet engine before being rescued by others. 

“Best” case scenario, these people have come away with a few broken bones and minor cuts and scratches. Worst case scenario, these people have lost limbs and have had to have others amputated. And that’s without considering the psychological effects of such a trauma.

The reason no one has survived being sucked through a jet engine (and is unlikely ever to) is chiefly due to how a jet engine works. 

If you look at the front of a jet engine, the first thing you’ll see is a series of blades. These blades rotate at huge speeds – anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 times per second – to push the 1.2 million tons of air through the engine each second. 

Whilst these blades are not as sharp as a knife, the speed they move at make them even deadlier. So when a human gets sucked into a jet engine, the first thing that happens is that these blades will cut them into millions of tiny pieces. 

American Airlines Boeing 777 200 Rolls Royce Trent
Bill Abbott American Airlines Boeing 777-200 Rolls-Royce Trent

But it doesn’t end there. What remains of the person then enters the combustion chamber, where they get “cooked” to put it politely. Before being thrust out the back of the engine, the remains pass through another set of blades for good measure. 

As you can probably imagine, this isn’t a particularly pleasant way to go and ensures that no one can survive being fully sucked through a jet engine.

Unless something radical happens to how jet engines work, it will remain impossible for people to survive being sucked through a jet engine.

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What is The Safe Distance to Avoid Getting Sucked into a Jet Engine?

The safe distance to avoid getting sucked into a jet engine varies from jet to jet depending on how the size of, and powerful the engine is.

For example, a Boeing 737-800 is powered by a pair of CFM International CFM56 engines. Their minimum safe distance is approximately 14 ft (4.2 m).

Conversely, a Global 7000 business jet is powered by a pair of GE Passport engines, which have a minimum safe distance of 5 ft 6 in (1.67 m). 

Due to each aircraft having their own minimum safe distance, there’s no “ballpark estimate” or “rule of thumb” you can use to be safe with every single kind of jet. 

Assuming it’s your job to be near the jet engine whilst it’s on, you’ll likely be told the minimum safe distance beforehand or read it on the aircraft’s maintenance log.

In the case of non-military aviation (where things are sometimes a little different depending on the circumstances), the minimum safe distance will usually be designated by a series of cones to illustrate this and avoid people misjudging the distance. 

For an added layer of redundancy (as well as to avoid the cones themselves from getting sucked into the engine), these cones are usually placed slightly further than the minimum safe distance so if a person does accidentally enter it, they should be fine. 

That being said, avoid entering the coned-off area at all costs just to be safe.

What Safety Measures Are There to Avoid This?

Aside from the cones designating the safety area around the engines, there are a series of other safety measures airports and Part 145 firms have in place to avoid passengers, pilots and engineers alike getting sucked into jet engines. 

For passengers, airports do this quite slyly – unless you’re actively looking for it, you’ll probably miss it – through the use of walkways. 

If you’ve ever been on a commercial flight, you’ll find that you enter the aircraft in one of two ways: jetways and ribbons. 

The first (and most common) is the jetway, the bridge that takes you from the terminal directly to the aircraft. The second is by following a walkway designated by ribbons, taking one set of passengers to the front and another to the rear of the aircraft (depending on seat number).

Singapore Airlines plane on jet bridge
pixabay Singapore Airlines plane on jet bridge

Both are set out so that you are more than clear of the minimum safe distance to ensure no passenger deliberately or inadvertently gets sucked into the engine. 

For engineers, however, their whole job is dependent on them getting close to aircraft, regardless of whether their engines are on or off. To that end, they have their sets of safety procedures to adhere to. These are:

  • Ensuring all loose items are secured to their person or stored elsewhere
  • Ensuring no loose clothing is worn which could be caught up in the jet’s pull
  • Ensuring footwear is suitable to the tasks the engineer will be carrying out to avoid accidentally tripping into the hazard area
  • Ensuring communication is done via radio, not arm signals
  • Ensuring they remain outside the hazard area and get the pilot to shut the engine off immediately if anything enters it
  • Ensuring that they have prior knowledge of the aircraft’s minimum safety distances and safety protocols 

How Dangerous is Foreign Object Debris (FOD)?

But it’s not just humans that can get sucked into jet engines. Anything on the runway that’s not bolted down or heavier than a few tonnes has the risk of being sucked into a jet engine if close enough. 

Collectively, these things are known as foreign object debris (FOD) and can range in size from something as small as a chocolate bar wrapper to something as large as a cargo pallet. 

When it comes to dangers on a runway, there’s nothing more dangerous than FOD, as whilst a chocolate bar wrapper might not seem that dangerous, it can easily destroy a jet engine. 

View of fan blades of Pratt & Whitney JT8D jet engine after a bird strike
Editorial Team View of fan blades of Pratt & Whitney JT8D jet engine after a bird strike

If it gets sucked in, something that weighs only a few grams flying at a few hundred miles per hour can easily damage the fragile blades in the compressor and/or turbine by cracking, fracturing or even bending them. 

FOD can similarly damage the engine nacelles, which can lead to aerodynamic issues if not repaired before flight. 

Safe to say, FOD is incredibly dangerous and not something that should be taken lightly. 

This is one of the reasons why airports have pickup trucks (or other types of cars) that go up and down the runway. They’re chiefly looking for and inspecting damage, but also ensuring there’s no FOD on or near the runway.

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About the Author

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Salomon Marco
Salomon has been interested in aviation ever since his parents took him on a Boeing 720 to see his relatives. When he’s not writing his latest aviation article, he can be found planespotting, reading up on on aviation news or in the cockpit of his favorite aircraft!