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Pilot's chilling words as he battled to save 263 on jet falling over shark-infested water

On June 24, 1982, a chilling announcement no plane passenger wants to hear was made on a British Airways 747 jet, 37,000ft up in the air from London to Auckland.

It signalled that the lives of 248 passengers and 15 crew on board the jet were in the hands of Captain Eric Moody, who died in his sleep last month aged 84.

Captain Moody told those on board BA Flight 009: “This is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem and all four engines have stopped. We are all doing our damnedest to get them working again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

The seasoned pilot, who started gliding lessons at 16, had returned from a loo break after being summoned to the cockpit by First Officer Roger Greaves and Flight Engineer Barry Townley-Freeman.

Pinpricks of light had been striking the cockpit windows, leading those inside to think at first they were St Elmo’s Fire – an electric discharge projecting from a pointed object, such as the wing of an airplane.

The unusual effect turned into sheets of brilliant white light that reached the wings of the plane, which had been cruising at 37,000ft.

Passengers then saw smoke coming through vents in through the roof of the plane, with crew mistaking it for cigarette smoke, with smoking permitted on planes back then.

The City of Edinburgh’s Chief Steward Graham Skinner realised something had gone wrong and his team started stowing away loose items. Many of the passengers had by this point also started to realise something was up.

Then the first of the jet’s four engines failed. Captain Moody later recalled the three remaining engines going out almost immediately afterwards.

Passenger Betty Tootell said: “The engines made a grating, rumbling sound, almost like a cement mixer. Then gradually the noise just disappeared and they became silent.”

Fellow passenger Charles Capewell said: “It was like you were suspended in space and all you could hear was this quietness and the whimpering from a few people that were really upset.”

The crew calculated they would have 30 minutes before crashing, with 747s gliding for nine miles for every half mile of descent. Typically, it took three minutes to restart an engine, so they knew they had at least 10 attempts.

The plane had to be flying between 290mph and 310mph to restart them, but the 747’s airspeed indicator had failed. In a bid to hit the right speed, Captain Moody repeatedly raised and lowered the plane’s nose to alter its speed.

Terrified passengers watched helplessly out of the windows, but some felt sure the engines were on fire as each attempt to restart them led to sheets of fire shooting out.

Oxygen masks fell in front of the passengers as the plane dropped below 26,000ft. When Flight Officer Greaves’s mask fell apart as he tried putting it on, Captain Moody dropped the plane 6,000ft in a few seconds to prevent him passing out.

At that height, those on board would be able to breathe without masks.

The crew took the decision to divert to Jakarta airport but knew it would need at least one working engine to make it that far.

Greaves radioed a Mayday warning to Jakarta, saying: “Mayday, Mayday. Jakarta control. Speedbird nine. We have lost all four engines. Repeat, all four engines. Now descending through flight level 3-5-0.”

Captain Moody decided if the engines still hadn’t restarted at 12,000ft he would attempt to come down on the surface of the Indian Ocean. Lowering to 13,500ft it looked like he would have to perform the manoeuvre, for the first time in his career.

But then one of the engine’s suddenly started working again, with a low rumbling noise which Greaves later recalled was “wonderful to hear”.

Ninety seconds later the remaining engines restarted with just 10 minutes to spare and a looming mountain range the jet then managed to clear.

Forced to make a manual landing in conditions which meant the crew couldn’t see through the cockpit windows, the plane touched down to cheers and applause from the relieved passengers.

Rolls-Royce engineers later discovered the plance had flown through a cloud of ash sent upwards into the sky by Mount Galunggung volcano near Jakarta, which had erupted that day.

When the plane flew through fine particles of rock at some 500mph, the abrasion and friction on its body and windows produced the strange electrical lightshows.

The engines were choked by volcanic debris and it was only when the jet flew through clearer, denser air and the volcanic material was blown free that the crew were able to start the engines again.

Captain Moody continued to fly 747s, including the City of Edinburgh following its repair. He retired at the age of 55, with more than 17,000 hours of flying under his belt.

He told the Airline Ratings website in 2014: “When I learnt to fly in the 50s, flying was dangerous and sex was safe. When I retired in the 90s, that had gone the other way around.”


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