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Lessons from a flight through ash clouds

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-04-16

One might well wonder whether a little ash really necessitates grounding entire fleets of planes. But one legendary British pilot who contended with this foe of nature attests that volcanic ash is not merely dust in the wind.

Captain Eric Moody, a pilot, became something of a folk hero in his native England on June 24, 1982, when he flew a British Airways passenger plane to safety after running head-on into a volcanic ash cloud that originated from an erupting volcano in Java, Indonesia. The plane originated from Kuala Lumpur and was meant to land in Perth, but instead made an emergency landing in Indonesia.

He described the dramatic flight in an interview with Sky News, saying, “It was very frightening, all the engines stopped for 14 or 15 minutes and we didn’t know what was happening.”

Captain Moody broadcast a message to the passengers on his plane: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

The plane dropped 7900 metres; cabin pressure dropped. The plane attempted to land in Jakarta but it dipped dangerously close to the mountains.

According to an article published by the UK's Geological Society of the UK, the mixture of volcanic dust plus a hot engine is a bad one: “The temperature in the engines was high enough to melt finely powdered rock.”

That is precisely what happened to Captain Moody's jet – hence the failed engines. The windshield soon became peppered with dust, becoming opaque.

Despite the risk of hitting mountainous terrain, Captain Moody took his chance and blindly flew downward anyway until he touched ground near Jakarta, with no fatalities. Only days later did they learn that volcanic ash was the culprit.

The same Geological Society article explained the lesson of Moody’s story: “Obviously the best advice to any pilot about flying into ash plumes is "don't". Hence today’s disruption.”


 

Date created : 2010-04-15

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