Volcanic Ash Forces British Airways Flight 9 To Land <


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Volcanic Ash Forces British Airways Flight 9 To Land

Shane Nolan

On 24 June 1982 - British Airways Flight 9, sometimes referred to as the Speedbird 9 or Jakarta incident, was a scheduled British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Auckland, with stops in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, and Melbourne. The route was flown by City of Edinburgh, a 747-236B registered G-BDXH. The aircraft flew into a cloud of volcanic ash thrown up by the eruption of Mount Galunggung, resulting in the failure of all four engines, although the reason for the failure was not then apparent to the crew or ground control.

The aircraft was diverted to Jakarta in the hope that enough engines could be restarted to allow it to land there. The aircraft was able to glide far enough to exit the ash cloud, and all engines were restarted (although one failed again soon after), allowing the aircraft to land safely. The crew members of the incident segment boarded the aircraft in Kuala Lumpur, while many of the passengers had been aboard since the flight began in London.

Shortly after 13:40 UTC (20:40 Jakarta time) above the Indian Ocean, south of Java, the flight crew (consisting of Senior First Officer Roger Greaves and Senior Engineer Officer Barry Townley-Freeman while Captain Eric Moody was in the lavatory) first noted an effect on the windscreen similar to St. Elmo's fire. The phenomenon persisted after Moody returned from the lavatory. Despite the weather radar showing clear skies, the crew switched on engine anti-ice and the passenger seat belt signs as a precaution.

As the flight progressed, smoke began to gather throughout the passenger cabin of the aircraft and it was at first assumed to be cigarette smoke. However, it soon began to grow thicker and had an ominous odour of sulphur. Passengers who had a view out of the aircraft windows noted that the engines were unusually bright with the light shining forward through the fan blades and producing a stroboscopic effect.




At approximately 13:42 UTC (20:42 Jakarta time), engine number four began surging and soon flamed out. The flight crew immediately performed the engine shutdown drill, quickly cutting off fuel supply and arming the fire extinguishers. Less than a minute later, at 13:43 UTC (20:43 Jakarta time), engine two surged and flamed out. Within seconds, and almost simultaneously, engines one and three flamed out prompting the flight engineer to exclaim, "I don't believe it ? all four engines have failed!"  

Without engine thrust, a 747-200 has a glide ratio of approximately 15:1 meaning it can glide forward 15 kilometres for every kilometre it drops. The flight crew quickly determined that the aircraft was capable of gliding for 23 minutes and covering 91 nautical miles (169 km) from its flight level of 11,000 metres (36,000 ft). At 13:44 UTC (20:44 Jakarta time), Greaves declared an emergency to the local air traffic control authority, stating that all four engines had failed.  

However, Jakarta Area Control misunderstood the message; interpreting the call as meaning that only engine number four had shut down. It was only after a nearby Garuda Indonesia flight relayed the message to Air Traffic Control that it was understood. Despite the crew squawking the emergency Transponder setting of 7700, the aeroplane could not be located by Air Traffic Control on their radar screens. Many passengers wrote notes to relatives. One such passenger was Charles Capewell who wrote "Ma. In trouble. Plane going down. Will do best for boys. We love you. Sorry. Pa XXX" scrawled on the cover of his ticket wallet.  

Owing to the high Indonesian mountains on the south coast of the island of Java, an altitude of at least 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) was required to cross the coast safely. The crew decided that if the aircraft was unable to maintain altitude by the time they reached 3,650 metres (11,980 ft) they would turn back out to sea and attempt to ditch into the Indian Ocean. The crew began the engine restart drills, despite being well above the recommended maximum engine in-flight start envelope altitude of 8,500 metres (27,900 ft). The attempts failed. 

Despite the lack of time, Moody made an announcement to the passengers that has been described as "a masterpiece of understatement" 

?Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.? 

As pressure within the cabin fell, oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling - an automatic emergency measure to make up for the lack of air. On the flight deck however, Greaves's mask was broken; the delivery tube had detached from the rest of the mask. Moody swiftly decided to descend at 1,800 m per minute to an altitude where there was enough oxygen in the outside atmosphere to breathe almost normally. 

At 4,100 metres (13,500 feet), they were approaching the altitude at which they would have to turn over the ocean and attempt a risky ditching. Although there were guidelines for the procedure, no one had ever tried it in a Boeing 747 ? nor have they since. As they performed the engine-restart procedure, engine number four started, and at 13:56 UTC (20:56 Jakarta time), Moody used its power to reduce the rate of descent. Shortly thereafter, engine three restarted, allowing him to climb slowly. Shortly after that, engines one and two successfully restarted as well. The crew subsequently requested and expedited an increase in altitude to 4,500 metres (14,800 ft) in order to clear the high mountains of Indonesia. 

As the aircraft approached its target altitude, the St. Elmo's fire effect on the windscreen returned. Moody throttled back, however engine number two surged again and had to be shut down. The crew immediately descended and held 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). 

As Flight 9 approached Jakarta, the crew found it difficult to see anything through the windscreen, and had to make the approach almost entirely on instruments, despite reports of good visibility. The crew decided to fly the ILS, Instrument Landing System, however, the glideslope was inoperative, so they flew the localizer as the first officer monitored the airport's DME (Distance Measuring Equipment). He then called out how high they should be at each DME step along the final track to the runway, creating a virtual glide slope for them to follow.  

It was, in Moody's words, "a bit like negotiating one's way up a badger's arse". Although the runway lights could be made out through a small strip of the windscreen, the landing lights on the aircraft seemed to be inoperable. After landing, the flight crew found it impossible to taxi, due to glare from apron floodlights which made the already sandblasted windscreen opaque. Therefore, City of Edinburgh had to wait for an airport tug to tow her in.
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