WITH unbelievable restraint, Captain Eric Moody addressed British Airways flight 009 as his Boeing 747 drifted inexorably down towards the Indian Ocean.
Displaying the stiff-upper-lip spirit that built an empire, he uttered the words that are every air passenger's worst nightmare: '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.' Minutes before, while cruising at ten kilometres above the sea, Captain Moody had instructed his first officer to send a Mayday call to ground control in nearby Indonesia. The date was June 24, 1982, and this extraordinary flight has since gone down in aviation history.
As a new TV documentary investigating the socalled 'Jakarta Incident' makes clear, nothing was quite as one might expect that terrible night.
Incredibly, passengers and crew reacted to the captain's cataclysmic announcement not with screams and hysteria, but with an extraordinary calm as the realisation that they were almost certainly sinking to their deaths hit home.
Looking out of the aircraft windows, they could see that their plane was coated in an eerie white light and that the engines were on fire, with great jets of flame trailing into the sky.
The cabin was now filled with a thick, sulphuric smoke, and the mighty jet bucked up and down as if it were a piece of flotsam adrift on stormy seas.
Mothers moved to comfort their children, husbands reached for their wives' hands, and air hostesses worked their way down the cabin, teaming solo passengers with a companion to accompany them into the darkest of nights.
Hours before, the BA scheduled flight had taken off from Heathrow Airport.
After the long check-in, the 263 passengers settled into their seats, ordered drinks from the cabin crew, and prepared for the flight which would take them to New Zealand via India, Malaysia and Australia.
At the very back of the enormous jet, Betty Tootell made sure her 80-year-old mother, Phyl, was comfortable, and then began to read the Jane Austen novel she had bought for the journey.
Brought up in Britain, the pair had emigrated to New Zealand three years earlier, and were returning after a summer holiday in suburban London. Seated in front of her, James Ferguson was on his way back from a trip to the Holy Land, and was looking forward to getting home. Some rows ahead, Charles Capewell sat with his two young boys, Chas, ten, and Stephen, seven. In a few hours, the family expected to be reunited with their mother in Perth, Australia.
On the flight deck, the crew were fresh and alert.
They had taken control at the last stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Captain Moody had had his first taste of flying at the age of 16, when he took a gliding lesson. He was one of the first pilots ever trained on the Boeing 747. First officer Roger Greaves had been a co-pilot for more than six years, and Barry Townley-Freeman was flight engineer.
As the jet flew over the Indonesian city of Jakarta, it was cruising at more than 36,000ft and had been in the air for an hour-and-a-half. Expecting an easy flight, Captain Moody checked his weather radar, which showed smooth sailing for the next 300 miles.
Assured that all was well, he asked Greaves to take charge while he took a break and stretched his legs.
In the cabin, chief steward Graham Skinner had observed excessive smoke in the air. Back in 1982, it was still legal to smoke on jets, and he was concerned it may have been a smouldering cigarette.
In the cockpit, the flight took an unsettling turn.
First Officer Greaves said: 'Barry and I were just sitting there minding the shop, pitch dark night, of course, and then we started to get these pinpricks of light on the windscreen.' His engineer, Townley-Freeman, asked whether it could be St Elmo's Fire - a natural phenomenon sometimes seen when planes fly through highly charged electric thunderclouds. The only thing was, there were no thunderclouds that night. The radar showed a clear sky.
The FAA said the extreme heat lasted for a brief time before United Airlines employees got air flowing.
Oxygen masks didn't drop on the Detroit-bound plane, and the crew was said to breathe through their clothes.
An American Eagle commuter flight was forced to return Monday morning to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport after a flight attendant smelled smoke in the lavatory, authorities said.
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