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The calm and collected way pilot handled engines failing over shark-infested ocean

The calm and collected way pilot handled engines failing over shark-infested ocean

Eric Moody's quick thinking saved hundreds of lives

Flying isn’t always smooth sailing, but usually the worst that happens is a bit of turbulence.

Not for one flight back in 1982 though, whose engines suddenly failed as they were flying across shark-infested oceans.

Miraculously, their captain made history as he successfully saved 263 lives during an impossible event.

British Airways flight 009 from London to Auckland, New Zealand, on 24 June 1982 ran into major issues, but pilot Eric Moody saved the day.

"All four engines have stopped"

Captain Moody, who recently passed away aged 84, saved the lives of everyone onboard the BA Flight 009 plane.

He told passengers in the face of disaster: “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.”

These are words no passenger wants to here, but after flying at 37,000ft, the captain noticed strange pinpricks of light hitting the windscreen, which they theorised was St Elmo's Fire, a 'sparking' phenomenon caused by flying under thunder clouds.

Stock image of a pilot.
Getty Stock Image

However, the radar showed that the skies were clear.

Then, the plane appeared to fly through a wave of clouds, which didn’t make sense.

What happened next was just the beginning of the nightmare which was about to unfold.

"I didn't know what was happening"

Passenger Betty Tootell recalled suddenly feeling something like a jolt of turbulence.

She said in a TV documentary: “I glanced over to the left wing, and it was covered in a brilliant white shimmering light.

“I carried on reading but I found that I kept reading the same paragraph over and over again and not taking in a word of it. I just didn't know what was happening.”

That was when smoke started coming into the cabin.

The plane's four engines stopped working.
British Airways.

Captain Moody recalled that the first engine had stopped working and ‘the other three went out almost immediately and that's when it began to be a serious emergency.’

Tootell explained: “The engines made a grating, rumbling sound almost like a cement mixer.

“Then gradually the noise just disappeared and they became silent.”

30 minutes to save 263 lives

Thanks to their training, the crew know that a 747 plane could glide nine miles for every half mile it drops .

As it takes three minutes to restart an engine, they calculated that they only had ten attempts and roughly 30 minutes before they were goners.

But jets can’t be restarted until it reached 290mph-310mph and the plane’s airspeed indicator had failed, so Captain Moody raised and lowered the nose of the plane to change its speed.

Stock image of a plane flying over the sea.
Getty Stock Image

However, another issue was arising as the smoke in the cabin was causing passengers to lose oxygen, so Moody dropped the plane 6,000ft within a few seconds, so that the plane was at a height where everyone could breathe without masks.

"We knew we were going to die"

Tootell said that although so much was happening, the cabin remained eerily quiet.

She said: “Other people were sitting quite rigidly almost as if they hadn't noticed anything.

“At first it was sheer fear, then after a while it turned to acceptance. We knew we were going to die.”

After some quick calculations, they also realised that they couldn’t make it to the closest airport without a working engine and radioed a Mayday warning to Jakarta control.

A picture of Captain Eric Moody from his website.
Eric Moody

Moody decided that if the engines didn’t restart at 12,000ft, he would try to land on the Indian Ocean, something he had no experience with.

He said: “I knew it was so difficult to land aeroplanes on the sea, even when you had everything going for you and we didn't have much going for us.”

But at 13,500ft, one of the engines suddenly started back up and nine seconds later so did the rest.

The tragedy could be prevented, and they could now make it to Jakarta.

When the plane finally landed on the runway, Moody recalled: “The aeroplane just landed itself, it kissed the earth.

“It was beautiful.”

Months after the incident, the crew was showered with awards and Moody received both the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air and crystal decanters from aircraft's insurers, Lloyd's of London.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Stock Images/Eric Moody

Topics: Travel, News, Australia