Cargo flight forced to turn back to JFK after horse gets loose on board

Credit: Vytautas Kielaitis /

A cargo aircraft bound for Belgium was forced to return to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York shortly after takeoff after a horse broke free from its stall.  

According to various reports, the Air Atlanta Icelandic Boeing 747 took off at 2:30 pm local time and was airborne for less than half an hour, reaching an altitude of around 31,000 feet, when the pilot contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) to say that the horse had escaped.  

The incident was reported at around 4.30 pm local time, with the pilot stating: “We are a cargo plane with a live animal, a horse, on board the airplane. And the horse managed to escape his stall.” 

He further explained the necessity of returning to New York as the crew was unable to “get the horse back secured”. 

The pilot’s audio message was posted on the YouTube channel You can see ATC

The pilot was allowed to divert and made a U-turn near the Canadian border. However, to ensure a safe landing back at JFK, the aircraft had to jettison approximately 20 tons of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean.  

The specific details of how the horse escaped and its condition upon return remain undisclosed, but the crew requested a veterinarian to be on standby due to the animal being “in difficulty”. 

JFK houses the ARK, a facility known for its advanced animal care and veterinary services. While it has not been confirmed that the flight was associated with the ARK, it is plausible that the horse could have been brought there after the incident, given the facility’s role in handling animal transportation and care. 

This facility, named to reflect the safe haven concept of Noah’s Ark, is integral to the JFK’s capabilities in handling and caring for animals during air travel. The ARK, located in JFK’s Cargo Area D, specializes in pre- and post-travel animal care and veterinary services for pets, horses, birds, and exotic animals. 

Horses, specifically, are transported from planes to the ARK in branded vehicles, where they can start the required quarantine processes or receive immediate care.  

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