A day like today, but 31 years ago, a BAC 1-11 of British Airways it underwent an explosive depressurization. This was caused by the detachment of the windshield on the left side of the Cockpit. As a result, the Pilot was sucked to the middle of the body, stopping the legs with the flight controls. One would think that it is impossible to survive such an accident, but the British pilot managed it despite spending around 20 minutes with half out of the plane. This is his story.
It was June 10, 1990, the holidays in the United Kingdom were beginning and people were heading towards the hot climates of Spain. The flight on which the miracle would happen was British Airways’ 5390 from Birmingham Airport (BHX) to Malaga in Spain. The 81 passengers boarded BAC 1-11 with registration G-BJRT and together with the six crew members took off at 08:20 LT.
Everything seemed to go smoothly. The Pilot in command was First Officer Alastair Atchinson but during the climb he handed over control to Captain Tim Lancaster. 13 minutes had passed since takeoff and the aircraft was 17,300 feet above the town of Didcot, Oxfordshire. Suddenly, a loud roar invaded the flight deck. The windshield on the Captain’s side had parted and at the same time sucked in the Pilot.
The Captain was left with half of the body outside the aircraft and was only supported by the flight controls. Due to the above, the autopilot was deactivated and the aircraft began to descend. The BAC 1-11 began to pick up speed on its sudden descent as the cab door was left open, locking the throttle controls. When the First Officer took control, he chose to continue the descent to a safe altitude.
While the Pilot sought to keep the aircraft safe and land in the best possible way, some Flight attendants entered the cockpit to grab the Captain’s body. His partner’s life was at stake and they had to hold him to prevent him from flying off. Also, if the Commander was shot out, the force with which he would do so could damage the wings or even get swallowed up in the engines and further complicate the scenario.
Fortunately, the First Officer managed to regain full control of the aircraft and began the emergency landing procedure. British Airways BAC 1-11 was directed to Southampton Airport. While the runway at this airport appeared to be too short for the fully loaded aircraft, there was no opportunity to unload fuel to lose weight. It was the only option. Despite the tension on the safety of the flight, the passengers and the Captain, the Pilot in command managed to land safely at 08: 55LT.
The wounded and the final investigation
The most seriously injured and the one that worried the entire team, was Captain Lancaster, who had spent more than 20 minutes outside the plane. However, miraculously, he survived, although he suffered mild frostbite, shock, bruising and fractures. Another of the most seriously injured was Purser Nigel Ogden who held the Pilot to prevent him from exiting through the windshield. The latter also presented frostbite and a dislocated shoulder.
The accident led to an investigation that concluded that the reason for the separation of the windshield was negligence in maintenance. Based on the study of the 90 bolts found in the decompression zone, it was determined that the bolts were too short and narrow. These had been installed the night before when engineers replaced the windshield panel. The smaller bolts could not withstand the pressure difference and caused decompression.
This story is undoubtedly an example of the importance of each airline working in accordance with procedures for safety. The miraculous fact surpassed fiction; the British Airways Pilot’s story could have been a movie like “The Captain / Terrror in the Air”, a similar story based on the crash of Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8633.