Certainly one of the most impressive stories of airline I’ve heard of all time. One can find on the internet a few different accounts of this story and the one I’m about to tell is a summary.
(All photos you see are taken from the show Air Crash Investigation of National Geographic – except the last one).
Birmingham airport – 7:20 – 1990 : A British Airways plane takes off to join Malaga (Spain) in the morning. For the captain, Tim Lancaster, 42, and his co-pilot Alastair Atchison, 39, there is nothing to report, it is a simple routine flight.
About fifteen minutes into the flight, cabin crew begins preparing meals, the captain decides to remove his belt and relax. The aircraft was at an altitude of 5,270m above Didcot, Oxfordshire.
Suddenly, a loud noise is heard at the front of the plane. The whole fuselage is filled with condensation. One of the cockpit windows (one on the left, next to the captain) is literally torn from the aircraft. Lancaster is then jerked out of his seat by the rushing air head first. Held by the knees, with only the head and torso outside the plane, he is pressed against the plane. The cockpit door is blown out onto the radio and navigation console, now blocking the throttle control. Therefore, the aircraft continues to speed as it descends, while papers and other debris are sucked into the cockpit.
The steward Nigel Ogden rushes to the window and firmly grabs the legs of the captain. At the rear of the plane, flight attendant Susan Price takes care to reassure the passengers and secure loose objects. Meanwhile, outside, Lancaster is fighting against icy winds over 550 km/h.
Atchison, who managed to regain control, begins his emergency descent and broadcasts a radio distress call. But unfortunately he does not hear the response of air traffic control because of strong winds rushing through the window.
Ogden, still attached to Lancaster, begins to suffer from cold and bruises, and is relieved by the remaining two flight attendants. At that time, Lancaster still shifts a few centimeters out the window. The crew cabin is able to see his face through the leftmost window. His body and his head constantly hit the fuselage, and they realize that despite the speed, his eyes are still wide open … Then they all assume that he died.
The copilot, still in control, makes them understand that it is important not to let the body at risk now that it could damage one of the aircraft engines. Luckily, he receives a message from air traffic controllers who tell him to land at Southampton.
35 minutes after takeoff, he manages to land the plane safely. Passengers immediately disembarked from the front and rear stairs, and the crew retrieves Lancaster. The captain’s body has numerous bruises and contusions due to strong gusts. He stayed 22 minutes outside at -17 ° C, and has certainly suffered oxygen deprevition during all this time.
But despite the trauma captain Lancaster suffered, there is a great twist to this story.
The fuselage after the landing
He survived this horrific ordeal and got away with two broken bones, bruising, shock frostbite and a broken finger. Less than five months after the incident, he was back in his cockpit.
The co-pilot also managed something exceptional by landing the plane despite the extreme conditions in the cabin. He also received a medal of merit for this achievement.
The investigations revealed that the broken window had been replaced the day before the flight and that the bolts used were not the right ones. Today all British Airways bolts are no longer located outside but inside airplanes.