By: Ehelepola Dharmasiri
The British Airways Flight 9 or Speedbird 9, operated by B747-236B from London to Auckland to the following routing, Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Melbourne encountered a serious incident after cruising at an altitude of 37000 feet above sea level after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur..
Captain Eric Moody was in command with a total of 15 crew and 248 passengers on board the Jumbo. Flight took off from Kuala Lumpur on the evening of the 24th of June, 1982 and the weather forecast indicated all clear for the five hour journey. While cruising at a height of 37000feet above the sea level, it encountered a thick cloud of volcanic ash which was created by the erupting mountain Galunggubg near Indonesia.
One by one all four of its engines failed and the Captain made the following announcement over the P.A system of the plane.
“Ladies and gentleman, 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”.
Surely passengers would have prayed silently for a safe landing, which was the only assistance they could offer to overcome any disaster.
The ash did not appear on plane’s weather radar, the pilot could not understand why one by one all engines flamed out, making matters worse the ash interfered with the plane’s radio communication in the cockpit and smoke filled the cabin.
Crew radioed a mayday warning to the Jakarta control tower. Pilots set a course to the nearest airport Halim Perdanakusuma in Jakarta. The other danger was the plane was losing altitude to clear the mountains of west Java and perhaps a sea landing was inevitable.
The passenger jet powered by four Rolls Royce engines had become a glider. The well experienced captain calmly did his best and landed safely at the Jakarta airport. He recalls “we glided from 37000feet to 12000feet before we got the engines going again”
There were no casualties and all crew and passengers were safe. The crew received various awards for their voluble service. The damaged engine parts from the plane are on display at the Auckland museum.
The Indonesian authorities’ closed the airspace around mount Galunggung permanently and rerouted airways to avoid the area as volcano ash can cause severe damage.
Passenger Betty Tootell who was on board this flight wrote a book about the incident.