British Airways Flight 5390 was a flight from Birmingham Airport in England for Málaga Airport in Spain that suffered explosive decompression, with no loss of life, shortly after takeoff on 10 June 1990. An improperly installed windscreen panel separated from its frame, causing the plane's captain to be blown partially out of the aircraft. With the captain pinned against the window frame for twenty minutes, the first officer landed at Southampton Airport.
Aircraft and crew
The County of South Glamorgan was a BAC One-Eleven Series 528FL jet airliner, registered as G-BJRT. The aircraft first flew on February 8, 1971, and was delivered to Bavaria Fluggesellschaft on February 26, 1971. It was later transferred to Bavaria Germanair in 1977, Hapag-Lloyd Flug in 1979, British Caledonian in 1981, and finally to British Airways in 1988. The captain was 42-year-old Timothy (Tim) Lancaster, who had logged 11,050 flight hours, including 1,075 hours on the BAC One-eleven; the copilot was 39-year-old Alastair Atchison, with 7,500 flight hours, with 1,100 of them on the BAC One-eleven. The aircraft also carried four cabin crew and 81 passengers.
Atchison handled a routine take-off at 08:20 local time (07:20 UTC) then handed control to Lancaster as the plane continued to climb. Both pilots released their shoulder harnesses and Lancaster loosened his lap belt. At 08:33 (07:33 UTC) the plane had climbed through about 17,300 feet (5,300 m):3 over Didcot, Oxfordshire, and the cabin crew were preparing for meal service.
Flight attendant Nigel Ogden was entering the cockpit when there was a loud bang and the cabin quickly filled with condensation. The left windscreen panel, on Lancaster's side of the flight deck, had separated from the forward fuselage; Lancaster was propelled out of his seat by the rushing air from the decompression and forced head first out of the flight deck. His knees were caught on the flight controls and his upper torso remained outside the aircraft, exposed to extreme wind and cold. The autopilot had disengaged, causing the plane to descend rapidly. The flight deck door was blown inward onto the control console, blocking the throttle control (causing the aircraft to gain speed as it descended) and papers and debris blew into the flight deck from the passenger cabin. Ogden rushed to grab Lancaster's belt, while the other two flight attendants secured loose objects, reassured passengers, and instructed them to adopt brace positions in anticipation of an emergency landing.
The plane was not equipped with oxygen for everyone on board, so Atchison began a rapid emergency descent to reach an altitude with sufficient air pressure. He then re-engaged the autopilot and broadcast a distress call, but he was unable to hear the response from air traffic control because of wind noise; the difficulty in establishing two-way communication led to a delay in initiation of emergency procedures. Ogden, still holding on to Lancaster, was by now developing frostbite and exhaustion, so chief steward John Heward and flight attendant Simon Rogers took over the task of holding on to the captain. By this time Lancaster had shifted several inches farther outside and his head was repeatedly striking the side of the fuselage. The crew believed him to be dead, but Atchison told the others to continue holding onto him, out of fear that letting go of him might cause him to strike the left wing, engine, or horizontal stabiliser, potentially damaging it.
Eventually, Atchison was able to hear the clearance from air traffic control to make an emergency landing at Southampton Airport. The flight attendants managed to free Lancaster's ankles from the flight controls while still keeping hold of him. At 08:55 local time (07:55 UTC), the aircraft landed at Southampton and the passengers disembarked using boarding steps.
Lancaster survived with frostbite, bruising, shock, and fractures to his right arm, left thumb and right wrist. Ogden dislocated his shoulder and had frostbite on his face, with damage to one eye. There were no other major injuries.
Police found the windscreen panel and many of the 90 bolts securing it near Cholsey, Oxfordshire.:12 Investigators found that when the windscreen was installed 27 hours before the flight, 84 of the bolts used were 0.026 inches (0.66 mm) too small in diameter (British Standards A211-8C vs A211-8D, which are #8-32 vs #10-32 by the Unified Thread Standard) and the remaining six were A211-7D, which is the correct diameter but 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) too short (0.7 inch vs. 0.8 inch).:52 The previous windscreen had also been fitted using incorrect bolts, which were replaced by the shift maintenance manager on a like-for-like basis without reference to maintenance documentation, as the plane was due to depart shortly.:38 The undersized bolts were unable to withstand the air pressure difference between the cabin and the outside atmosphere during flight. (The windscreen was not of the "plug" type – fitted from the inside so that cabin pressure helps to hold it in place – but of the type fitted from the outside so that cabin pressure tends to dislodge it.):7
Investigators found that the shift maintenance manager responsible for installing the incorrect bolts had failed to follow British Airways policies. They recommended that the CAA recognise the need for aircraft engineering personnel to wear corrective glasses if prescribed. They also faulted the policies themselves, which should have required testing or verification by another individual for this critical task. Finally, they found the local Birmingham Airport management responsible for not directly monitoring the shift maintenance manager's working practices.:55
First Officer Alastair Stuart Atchison and cabin crew members Susan Gibbins and Nigel Ogden were awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air; Ogden's name was erroneously missed from the published supplement. Atchison was awarded a 1992 Polaris Award for his ability and heroism.
The aircraft was repaired and returned to service, eventually being sold to Jaro International in 1993. It continued to operate with them until Jaro ceased operations in 2001, the aircraft going on to be scrapped the same year.
Alastair Atchison retired from British Airways shortly after the incident and joined Jet2.com and remained flying until he made his last commercial flight on a Boeing 737-33A (registration: G-CELE) from Alicante to Manchester on June 28, 2015 on his 65th birthday.
- Sichuan Airlines Flight 8633, a similar incident
- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident BAC One-Eleven 528FL G-BJRT Didcot". aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
- "G-INFO Database". Civil Aviation Authority.
- "Registration Details For G-BJRT (British Airways) BAC 1-11-528FL". www.planelogger.com. PlaneLogger. Retrieved 6 October 2019.
- Report No: 1/1992. Report on the accident to BAC One-Eleven, G-BJRT, over Didcot, Oxfordshire on 10 June 1990 (Report). HMSO. 1992. ISBN 0115510990.
- "Tributes to the reluctant hero of Flight 5390". The Sunday Post (Inverness). 5 July 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
- "June 10, 1990: Miracle of BA Flight 5390 as captain is sucked out of the cockpit – and survives". BT. 2018. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
- "This is your captain screaming (interview with Nigel Ogden)". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 February 2005. Retrieved 21 April 2008.
- "No. 52767". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1991. p. 27.
- Air Accident Investigation Branch
- News article showing image of cockpit exterior after landing