When the Flight Attendant Tells You How to Fasten Your Seat Belt, Pay Attention

Tim Lancaster02

Captain Tim Lancaster was in command of British Airways Flight 5390 on June 10, 1990, when the windscreen failed and he was sucked out of the cockpit.

The plane, a BAC 1-11, was at 17,300 feet, one-hour into its flight between Birmingham Airport in the United Kingdom and Málaga, Spain, when incorrect retention bolts on the windscreen failed, resulting in immediate explosive decompression.

Lancaster had removed his shoulder strap and loosened his seat belt and was pulled out of his seat by the rushing air. His feet caught under the yoke of his control column. forced head first out of the cockpit, his knees snagging onto the flight controls. Steward Nigel Ogden, who had just entered the cockpit, grabbed Lancaster by the legs while the first officer, Alastair Atchison, got the airplane under control. Ogden was on the verge of being dragged out as well when a second steward reached the cockpit and secured him with a strap from the captain’s shoulder harness. By this time, Lancaster had slipped sideways from the roof of the cockpit, and his bloodied head was flailing against the left side window, battered by the 345 mph wind.

The door to the flight deck was blown out onto the radio and navigation console, blocking the throttle control which caused the plane to continue gaining speed as they descended, while papers and other debris in the passenger cabin began blowing towards the cockpit.

Atchison began an emergency descent and signaled a distress call. He was unable to hear a response from air traffic control, however, due to the sound of the rushing air. Since two-way communication could not be established, emergency clearance was significantly delayed.

From the flight deck, the first officer and the flight attendants fought to keep hold of Lancaster, whose face continuously hit the window. They could see that his eyes were open and unblinking and assumed he was dead. They did not release him, however, out of concern that his body might be sucked into the left engine, causing a fire or further structural damage.

Upon successfully completing an emergency landing at Southampton, Lancaster was examined and found to be alive. He sustained frostbite, a broken arm, thumb, and wrist, as well as significant bruising and shock, but was otherwise unharmed and was back to work in less than five months.


1 reply »

  1. Thank you for sharing this incredible news. However, why would you release a person’s body just because he is (assumed to be) dead so he wouldn’t be sucked into the engine? Trying to use my best language: That’s ridiculous and highly unethical. (and imagine what I say from the inside)


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