Thirty years ago, a miracle happened in an airplane flying from Birmingham, England to Málaga, Spain. On June 10, 1990 a BAC-111 belonging to British Airways had taken off from Birmingham with eighty one passengers but when it passed near Didcot, about ninety miles away, the window closest to the pilot came loose and was ripped off the aircraft.
The decompression of the flight crew cabin at over seventeen thousand feet of altitude was so strong it ripped the cockpit door off jamming it into the throttle control.
Next, the pilot, Captain Tim Lancaster was being pushed out through the opening but his legs caught on the flight controls giving cabin steward Nigel Ogden the chance to grab his legs and hold on for dear life as the plane accelerated downward with co-pilot Alastair Atchinson fighting to keep it under control according to Ogden’s story found on smh.com.au.
The steward had come in to the cabin to offer the crew some tea when a massive explosion occurred with Ogden’s first thoughts that it was a bomb.
He saw the captain being pulled out, grabbed onto him and within minutes was being pulled out himself. The captain’ shirt was gone and his body was bent over the top of the plane.
His legs had disconnected the autopilot which caused the plane to plummet downwards at over four hundred miles per hour.
Back in the cabin everything was being pushed out of the aircraft including items that were bolted down. Steward John Heward grabbed onto Ogden’s belt and managed to wrap the pilot’s seatbelt around him. Atchinson had not yet removed his safety harness from takeoff which saved him from going out as well.
The noise in the cockpit was so much that Atchinson could not hear the radio which connected them to flight control. Lancaster’s legs were removed from the flight controls as Ogden felt his arms being pulled out of their sockets and his hands were freezing.
The captain slipped a bit but his body curved over the top of the plane with his head banging on the fuselage and his arms flailing about. Blood was spattered all over the area and according to Ogden a sight that he will never forget is the captain had his eyes open the entire time.
The co-pilot was able to get the autopilot back on but in order to avoid a possible collision with other air traffic he took the plane down to eleven thousand feet within two minutes and was able to reduce his speed.
Ogden’s arms were giving way so steward Simon Rogers belted himself into the third pilot’s seat and hung on to the pilot’s ankles. By this time, they all thought Lancaster was dead and one of the crew members suggested letting him go but Ogden refused, thinking of the Captain’s family.
The cabin pressure had equalized and the co-pilot was getting landing instructions from Southampton Airport. Because the aircraft’s fuel tank was still full, he requested a long runway for fear of the tires bursting but was only able to secure a regular sized runway.
Ogden walked up and down the aisles preparing the passengers for an emergency landing and worrying about his fate.
The worry was needless as Atchinson made a perfect landing with space to spare when he stopped the plane. Passengers were able to disembark by way of the steps rather than emergency chutes.
The total time of the incident was just eighteen minutes. Ogden walked through the aircraft to make sure everyone was out and then went to the cockpit to see the paramedics bringing the pilot back through the window on to a stretcher. Lancaster was covered in blood but his first words were, “I want to eat.”
Ogden had frostbite on his face and left eye and a dislocated shoulder. The pilot had frostbite, arm and wrist breaks and a broken thumb but five months after the accident he was flying again.
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Ogden has suffered with post-traumatic stress and has quit flying. As it turned out, the bolts that had been placed into the window to hold it in were too small.