On this day in 1982, a little-known Indonesian volcano almost brought down a British Airways 747.
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 them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.
Not the in-flight announcement you want to hear… but this is exactly what the captain of British Airways Flight 9 said to his 247 passengers.
On 24 June 1982, the Boeing 747 was flying overnight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth. After passing over West Java, the plane encountered a thick cloud of volcanic ash created by the erupting Mt Galunggung (map below). The ash did not appear on the plane’s weather radar, and – as it was an overnight flight – the pilots did not see/know why all four engines had suddenly stopped. To make matters worse, there was also acrid smoke in the cabin and the ash interfered with the plane’s radio communications.
The pilots set a course for the nearest airport – Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, Jakarta – while repeatedly trying to restart the engines. However, they soon calculated also that the plane was losing altitude too quickly to clear the mountains of West Java. If the engines did not restart, they would have to land in the sea.
After many attempts, the pilots successfully fired up the engines and cleared the mountains. They then landed in Jakarta “blind” – the ash had severly scratched the plane’s windscreen, and the airport’s glide slope (a system to help planes descend not too quickly/slowly) was not working.
HOW MT GALUNGGUNG CHANGED GLOBAL AVIATION
This event – now popularly known as “The Jakarta Incident” – showed how volcanic ash can be very dangerous to planes. It resulted in many changes and improvements in aircraft design. For example, flight radar systems can now show ash.
Similarly, large volcanic eruptions now result in the closure of airspace. This occurred most famously in April 2010, when an eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland caused the cancellation of all flights for six days in 20 European countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem.
All four engines have stopped.
The significance of this event in aviation history was outlined in an episode of the TV series “Air Crash Investigation”. It was repeated many times in April 2010.
Meanwhile, Mt Galunggung was quiet from 1983 until February this year, when its status was temporarily raised to Alert.
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