British Airways Flight 5390: The Miraculous Survival of a Captain
The unbelievable survival of captain Timothy Lancaster
On June 10, 1990, British Airways Flight 5390 experienced a terrifying incident when the cockpit windshield blew out, causing the captain to be partially sucked out of the aircraft. Despite the severity of the situation, the quick thinking and heroic actions of the crew and passengers led to the safe landing of the aircraft and the miraculous survival of the captain.
British Airways Flight 5390 was a scheduled passenger flight from Birmingham, England, to Malaga, Spain. The aircraft, a BAC One-Eleven, was a twin-engine jet airliner that could carry up to 119 passengers.
The captain was 42-year-old Timothy Lancaster, who had flown 11,050 hours, including 1,075 hours on the BAC One-Eleven. The copilot was 39-year-old Alastair Atchison, who had flown 7,500 hours, including 1,100 on the BAC One-Eleven. The plane also had 81 passengers and 4 cabin crew. The flight was normal and uneventful until the aircraft was climbing to its cruising altitude.
Atchison oversaw a regular takeoff before passing control to Lancaster as the aircraft continued to ascend.
13 minutes into the flight, the aircraft had ascended around 17,300 feet, and the cabin crew was preparing to serve meals.
Nigel Ogden, a flight attendant, was entering the cockpit when a loud noise occurred and the cabin soon filled with condensation.
Lancaster was thrown out of his seat by the rushing air and shoved head first out of the flight deck because the left windscreen panel on his side of the flight deck had split from the forward fuselage.
His upper torso remained outside the airplane, exposed to bitter cold and wind, with his knees locked on the flight controls.
Ogden rushed to grab Lancaster's belt while the other two flight attendants tried to calm passengers down and told them to get into a brace position in case the plane had to make an emergency landing.
Despite the severity of the situation, First Officer Atchison was able to maintain control of the aircraft and immediately began an emergency descent to a lower altitude, where the air pressure was high enough to prevent further damage to the aircraft and to allow the crew and passengers to breathe normally.
Still holding on to Lancaster, Ogden was getting tired, so flight attendant Simon Rogers and purser John Heward took over holding on to the captain.
By this time, Lancaster had moved a few centimeters to the outside, and his head was hitting the side of the plane over and over again. The crew thought he was dead, but Atchison told the others to keep holding on to him because he might hit the left wing, engine, or horizontal stabilizer if they let go. This could damage the plane.
British Airways Flight 5390 landed safely at Southampton Airport, where Captain Lancaster was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment. He suffered from frostbite, shock, and multiple fractures, but miraculously survived the incident.
With frostbite, bruises, shock, and fractures to his right arm, left thumb, and right wrist, Lancaster managed to survive.
What Caused The Problem
Authorities determined that when the windshield was installed 27 hours prior to the flight, 84 of the bolts used had a diameter that was too small. During flight, the undersized bolts proved incapable of withstanding the pressure difference between the cabin and the outside atmosphere.
The plane was fixed and put back into service. After less than five months, Tim Lancaster went back to work.
The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air was given to the First Officer, Alastair Atchison, and the cabin crew, Susan Gibbins and Nigel Ogden.
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