Flight attendants have pulled off plenty of impressive tricks in their time — take the flight attendant who survived a 30,000-foot fall without a parachute or the hostess who shared her free travel hack as prime examples — but few are as impressive as this particular story…
On a seemingly normal Sunday morning in June 1990, 81 passengers boarded a British Airways flight from Birmingham destined for the coastal resort town of Malaga, Spain. Little did they know that they were about to become part of one of the most astonishing stories of survival in aviation history…
WATCH: Flight Attendant Survives 30,000 Feet Fall From Plane Without Parachute.
Catastrophe At 17,000 Feet
As reported by the ABC, the flight took off at 7:20am as scheduled and, at first, all seemed well. Passengers settled into their seats, cabin crew prepared the in-flight service, and Captain Tim Lancaster alongside co-pilot Alastair Atchison were in full control as the aircraft steadily ascended to its cruising altitude.
However, just 13 minutes after take-off while cruising at around 17,000 feet, a loud bang shook the aircraft and the internal door of the cockpit burst off its hinges. Unsurprisingly, panic filled the cabin as it quickly became apparent that the crew was facing what experts politely refer to as an “explosive decompression” event.
Things were far worse for Captain Tim Lancaster than his passengers, however, as he was immediately sucked out of the plane through the gaping hole where his windscreen should have been. His upper body was pinned outside the aircraft by the force of the wind, while his legs remained flailing inside the cockpit…
Flight attendant Nigel Ogden — who had been preoccupied with the all-important task of serving tea to the pilots — quickly grabbed Captain Lancaster by the waist, preventing him from being completely pulled out of the cockpit. Meanwhile, Chief Steward John Heward rushed to clear the debris from the cockpit door and secure the navigation panel.
Co-pilot Alastair Atchison, somehow still seated safely inside the cockpit, regained control of the aircraft which was descending rapidly through busy airspace. Atchison had to rapidly stabilise the air pressure, avoid a mid-air collision, and bring the plane back to a safe altitude… all with his colleague dangling out the window.
Within an impressive 148 seconds, Atchison managed to level the aircraft at 11,000 feet. Further back in the aircraft, the rest of the cabin crew, including Simon Rogers and Sue Gibbins, worked tirelessly to calm panicked passengers.
A Miraculous Landing
Nevertheless, the cabin had descended into panic as passengers wept and prayed, convinced of an impending crash. The crew informed them of the situation and flyers braced for an emergency landing.
Somewhat miraculously, Atchison, with support from air traffic control, managed to bring the plane safely to the ground at Southampton Airport. Flight BA5390 touched down at 7:55am, less than 200 kilometres from its departure point and a mere 35 minutes after takeoff.
After landing, emergency services arrived to assist the crew, who were still holding onto Captain Lancaster’s bruised and beaten body. To everyone’s astonishment, he was alive, though suffering from frostbite, fractures, and severe shock.
Ogden had dislocated his shoulder in the process of holding Lancaster inside the plane and the entire crew was taken to the hospital for hard-earned treatment.
An investigation later revealed that a series of errors and shortcuts during windscreen replacement caused the disaster. The near-catastrophic event prompted a thorough review of quality assurance and training procedures across the entire aviation industry, as the incident quickly became seen as a symptom of a wider culture that prioritised schedule adherence over passenger and staff safety.
Captain Tim Lancaster, whose survival astounded the world, returned to flying just five months after the incident. The crew was lauded for their efforts in saving their captain’s life as well as keeping all 81 passengers alive and well.
While an industry-wide failure to prioritise may have been the underlying issue at play, Tim Lancaster owes his life to one particularly strong and determined flight attendant. So, if you ever find yourself surrounded by burly cabin crew, don’t think of them as narcissists, think of them as shredded guardian angels.