All Four Engines Cut Out
June 24, 1982: British Airways Flight 9 loses all engines. The event is also known as the Jakarta incident. The flight originated in London and was to end in Auckland with stops in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, and Melbourne. The 747-256B plane was named the City of Edinburgh and there were 248 passengers and fifteen crew aboard. The flight was passing by Java and problems developed. Fresh crew had come aboard in Kuala Lumpur but most of the passengers had been aboard the plane since London. Mount Galunggung, about 110 miles southeast of Jakarta, is an active stratovolcano and had erupted earlier in the day.
At about 8:40 PM local time, the plane was flying over the Indian Ocean, south of Java. Captain Eric Moody (41) was in the lavatory when things started to go horribly wrong. Senior First Officer Roger Greaves (32) and Senior Engineer Officer Barry Townley-Freeman (40) were in charge when they noticed an odd effect on the windscreen similar to St. Elmo’s fire. Moody returned to the controls and weather radar showed clear skies. Regardless, the crew turned on the engine anti-ice and the passenger seatbelt sign. Smoke began to accumulate in the passenger cabin and it smelled of sulphur. Passengers at the window seats noticed the engines were unusually bright with a strobe effect.
At 8:42 PM, engine four flamed out and the crew performed a shutdown drill to cut off fuel supply and arm fire extinguishers. Less than a minute later, engine two also surged and flamed out. Within just seconds, both of the remaining engines flamed out as well. The glide ratio of a 747 is about 15:1 meaning it can glide forward 15 kilometers for every kilometer it drops. The plane should have been able to glide for 23 minutes and cover 91 nautical miles since it had been cruising at 37,000 feet. At 8:44 PM, Greaves declared an emergency to local air traffic control, stating all four engines had gone out. It was misinterpreted to mean ONLY engine four had gone out. Another plane helped correct the misunderstanding, but the engineless plane could not be located on radar screens by Air Traffic Control.
Because of high mountains, an altitude of at least 11,500 feet must be maintained to cross over the coast and land at Jakarta. The plane might be too low. If so, they would attempt an ocean landing. The crew began restart drills unsuccessfully. Pressure in the cabin fell and oxygen masks dropped but Greaves mask malfunctioned. Moody dropped the plane to get enough air pressure to breathe. They were going to have to ditch in the ocean, something never before done in a 747. At 8:56 PM, they got engine four running and Moody could slow descent and when engine three came back online, they could climb slowing. Engines one and two were restarted and the plane was successfully landed at Jakarta. It was found that flying through volcanic ash not only stopped the engines, but ruined them and did much damage to the external portion of the plane including darkening the windshield which meant the landing was done blind and with faulty instrumentation. A second incident thirteen days later helped aviation experts understand the dangers of airborne ash.
I don’t believe it—all four engines have failed! – Barry Townley-Freeman
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 going again. I trust you are not in too much distress. – Captain Eric Moody
Ma. In trouble. Plane going down. Will do best for boys. We love you. Sorry. Pa XXX – note from distressed passenger, Charles Capewell
It got really, really hot. You were perspiring, drenched in sweat. The acrid smoke filling the cabin was at the back of your throat, up your nose, in your eyes – your eyes were running. – chief steward, Graham Skinner
Also on this day: The Cynic – In 1842, Ambrose Bierce was born.
UFO – In 1947, Kenneth Arnold saw something strange in the sky.
Victory Parade – In 1945, a parade was held in Moscow.
Dance Fever – In 1374, St. John’s Dance broke out in Germany.