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A Pilot Was Sucked Out Of A Plane, But A Flight Attendant Grabbed His Leg - Their Nightmare Didn't Stop There

BT.com

It should have been a simple non-stop flight from England to Spain, but on June 10, 1990, the passengers and crew experienced what could only be described as something from a disaster movie.

About 8 million people take to the skies every day, and about 3 billion people fly each year. The sheer number of flights taking off and safely landing across the globe each day should be enough evidence that flying commercially is the safest mode of transportation we have.

But, once you've heard the story of British Airways Flight 5390, you might think differently.

British Airways flight 5390 was carrying 81 passengers and six crew members from England to Spain on June 10, 1990.

At the controls were 42-year-old Captain Tim Lancaster and his co-pilot 39-year-old Alastair Atchison.

For the experienced pilots, the routine take-off was a breeze. They loosened their harnesses and they settled into their seats - they had no indication that disaster was about to strike.

Just 15 minutes after take-off at an elevation of 17,300 feet, the crew were stunned by a loud bang in the cockpit.

The windscreen on the captain's side blasted off from its mooring, causing a sudden and intense decompression.

The rushing air forcefully pulled Captain Lancaster towards the open window and the entire top half of his body was violently sucked through the gaping hole....

It is thanks to his quick-thinking co-pilot and crew that Captain Lancaster wasn't instantly killed. Crew member, Nigel Ogden happened to be on the flight deck at the exact moment all hell broke loose.

He lunged forward and grabbed Lancaster's legs with one arm, then clung to the chair with the other.

"I was holding on for grim death," said Ogden, "but I could feel myself being sucked out, too."

As Ogden held on, he could feel his strength fading. The wind was rushing in at 630km/h and was a freezing -17C.

"I was still holding on to Tim but the pressure made him weigh the equivalent of 500 pounds [about 200 kilograms]. It was a good thing I'd had so much training at rugby tackles, but my arms were getting colder and colder and I could feel them being pulled out of their sockets."

The door to the flight deck had been blown open in the vacuum created by the hole in the cockpit. Eighty-one passengers watched in horror as another crew member, Simon Rogers, raced to the flight deck and strapped himself into the pilot's seat.

Just as Ogden was about to loose his grip, Rogers grabbed hold of Lancaster's feet. Ogden staggered to the back of the cabin.

Alistair had regained control of the plane and was talking to air traffic control. Pilot training is done on the assumption that there are two pilots: one to fly and one to direct them through the emergency drill.

All of the manuals and charts had been blown out of the cockpit when the door blew off. Alistair was alone, relying on memory with a crew he didn't know.

He increased the speed to lessen the risk of a mid-air collision and to get the plane down to an altitude where there was more oxygen. He dived to 11,000 feet in 2 minutes, then got the speed down to 300kmh.

Miraculously, he safely landed the plane on less than 1800 meters of runway.

Everyone, including Captain Lancaster, survived the horrifying ordeal that lasted just 18 minutes from take-off to touch-down. Air steward Nigel Ogden suffered frostbite and a dislocated shoulder.

When Ogden returned to the cockpit to check on the man he had saved, he couldn't believe what he saw:

"He was lying there, covered in blood, but to my amazement I heard him say: 'I want to eat.'" Ogden wrote, "I just exclaimed: 'Typical bloody pilot.' I went out onto the front steps, and shouted at the others 'He's alive!' and then I cried my eyes out."

Captain Tim Lancaster suffered frostbite, a few fractures to his arm and wrist, and a broken thumb. He had no memory of what happened. Luckily, his body had shut down; he had been in a coma throughout the ordeal.

[h/t Ripleys / Gizmodo / Sydney Morning Herald]