It happened on June 24, 1982. On a calm summer night, passengers boarded the plane that would take them from Kuala Lumpur to Perth. The atmosphere was relaxed; the weather was fine, there were no approaching thunderstorms, and the plane didn’t have any technical issues.
There were 247 passengers and 100 tons of fuel on board the plane. But by the time the plane was in the air south-east of Jakarta, Indonesia, the first officer was sending out a Mayday distress call. All four of their engines had failed…
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– It happened on June 24, 1982. British Airways Flight 9, also called Speedbird 9, performed its scheduled flight from London Heathrow to Auckland, with 5 stops on the way: in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, and Melbourne.
– There were 247 passengers and 100 tons (90 tonnes) of fuel on board the plane. That night, although moonless, was quite clear, and the flying conditions couldn’t be better. All in all, the crew expected an uneventful 5-hour flight.
– The windshields were ablaze with the most intense phenomenon of St. Elmo’s fire the captain had ever seen in his life. As soon as the captain fastened his seat belt, he looked at the weather radar – and it wasn’t showing any thunder clouds at all!
– The flight went on, but the smoke started to accumulate in the airplane’s passenger cabin. And while at first, it resembled cigarette smoke, with every passing minute, it was getting thicker and acquired the ominous stench of sulfur.
– It was 8:42 when Barry Townley-Freeman shouted that engine number four had flamed out. Without losing time, the crew shut down the engine by arming the fire extinguishers and cutting off the fuel supply.
– The captain estimated that they could glide 15 miles (24 km) for every mile (1.6 km) they dropped. It meant that the plane was able to glide for only 23 minutes and cover the distance of 91 nautical miles (168 km).
– Mothers were hugging their kids, husbands were squeezing their wives’ hands, flight attendants were teaming solo passengers together so they could support each other in the seemingly last minutes of their lives.
– When the pilots tried to restart the engines again at 8:56 PM, engine number four roared back to life! With its help, the captain managed to reduce the speed of their descent. Even better, several minutes later the three other engines started as well!
– As the plane was approaching Jakarta, it turned out that the cockpit crew couldn’t see anything through the windshield, even though the visibility outside was perfect.
– They could see the runway lights through a tiny strip of window, but the aircraft’s landing lights didn’t work. Even so, the captain managed to perform a perfectly smooth landing.
– During the investigation, it turned out that the near-tragedy happened because the plane flew into a cloud of volcanic ash left after the eruption of Mount Galuggung in 1982.
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