Updated: 9:15 PST, Sunday, March 5, 2017
One moment you’re sitting in an airplane ascending at 17,000 feet in the air to cruising altitude, then suddenly you’re descending at a rapid rate plummeting towards the ground doing the exact opposite. You are on British Airways Flight 5390 on June 10, 1990. As you stay clenching to your seat armrests so hard that it could be juxtaposed with squeezing your best friend’s hand to prevent them from jumping off of a bridge – you pray that somehow the pilot will regain control of the airplane. The real question that your sympathetic nervous system is inundating you with is the constant need to know: “What is going on…why did this happen..and most importantly what did I do to deserve this?” All you want are answers, but there’s no time for that. Seconds later, you hear the flight attendant come back and say: “I regret to inform you, but I think that the pilot may be dead.” It dawns on you that indubitably, you just received the golden ticket to your demise, but hope still stands that the angels of the heavens will abduct you before you crash – or that maybe someone with piloting experience could take control over the aircraft, and save you. You are sitting somewhat close to the cockpit in first class, and you can barely make out what’s happening in the cockpit. All you see is the flight attendant grabbing what looks to be a pair of legs running prominently through the cockpit window, and you promise yourself just 5 more minutes before you force yourself out of this nightmare of a dream. It can’t be real, it’s too surreal. Then you feel a rush of hurricane-grade wind which sends every single hair on the back of your back up to a rigid stand-still. Then you realize that these legs dangling through the cockpit window are the pilot’s legs, and the rest of his body is outside of the metal cylinder you are inside of. The information you have not received is: the co-pilot is struggling to contact air traffic control to figure out where to land, the pilot is dead with lacerations and blood all over him, and there’s pandemonium in the cockpit.
Miraculously, the co-pilot regains control of the airplane after previous futile attempts, but now he is faced with a larger problem than his pilot’s lifeless body dangling out of the cockpit. He contacts air traffic control, but they inform him that the landing strip isn’t long enough for the sized plane he’s flying. He has to be diverted to a farther side of the airport, not to mention he’s rocketing his descent through some of the busiest airspace in the world. You can see the rapid descent featured in this video. He is able to wrestle the airplane, and once he gains control he uses air traffic controls guidance to perform the most difficult landing of his entire life, successfully. The pilots lifeless body is brought onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. In order for the pilot to have survived, he would have needed to survive -17 degrees Centigrade (for every 1,000 ft drop in elevation it translates to a -2 degree centigrade decrease in temperature), ~230 mph winds, and lack of available oxygen. Unfathomably, he survived, and at first, no one believed it. He defied and braved all of the elements, where just one would have killed him with only frostbite and a few broken limbs. Escaped by the skin of his teeth. Miraculous. This is all due to an engineering issue where the engineer didn’t put the correct screw into the aircraft. He was pardoned of his mistake, let that sink in.
One of the most profound and outlandish near air disasters of all time.