A Brief History
On June 10, 1990, in an incredible tale of survival and an equally improbable freak accident, a British Airways pilot was sucked out of the windscreen of his jetliner and lived to tell about it.
Flight 5390 from Birmingham had taken off and was heading for Malaga, Spain (a beautiful resort town on the Spanish Costa del Sol) when the unthinkable happened. Without warning, the left panel of the windscreen blew off the plane and the captain was suddenly sucked out through the missing panel.
Captain Lancaster had taken the jet to over 17,000 feet and leveled off, when he and his copilot took off their shoulder harnesses and loosened their lap belts. When the accident happened and Lancaster was sucked out, his feet got stuck in the jet’s controls keeping his legs in the cockpit while his entire upper body was flattened against the right side of the windscreen.
Obviously, the cockpit was chaos. Papers and objects blew all over, the roar of the wind was deafening, and the door to the passenger compartment blew out. A male flight attendant grabbed the captain’s belt and hung on for all he was worth while the captains face slammed repeatedly into the windscreen. Debris blocked the flight controls and radio communication was almost impossible in the noise of the rushing air.
While the co-pilot regained control of the jetliner, the captain slid further out, but the frostbitten flight attendant still hung on until others took over from him to hold onto the captain who they now believed had to be dead.
The BAC 1-11 jet made an emergency landing at Southampton (England), passengers were evacuated and emergency crews rushed to the cockpit. Captain Lancaster was alive! Incredibly, he had suffered frostbite, a broken right wrist, right arm and left thumb, as well as bruises and shock. The flight attendant had a dislocated shoulder and frostbite as well, but all 85 of the remaining people on board were unhurt.
As if surviving such a freak accident is not amazing enough, Captain Lancaster went back to work and continued to fly after recovering less than 5 months after the incident! He went on to retire from British Airways at the mandatory retirement age and flew for another company.
Investigators found that the windscreen panel that blew out had been a replacement panel that had been installed with improper slightly undersized bolts, allowing it to blow out. Maintenance procedures have been adjusted to prevent this from happening again and the design of the windscreen was modified.
This amazing tale of survival is a good lesson in never giving up, whether you are the victim or the one(s) helping the victim. The courage and professionalism of the flight crew is inspirational to say the least. Do you have any tales of an amazing survival incident? If so, please share the story.
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For more information, please see…
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! Crisis on the Flight Deck, Second Edition. The Crowood Press UK, 2002.