Tributes to the re­luc­tant hero of Flight 5390

Re­tir­ing pi­lot’s ac­tions the stuff of leg­end

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - News - By Ben Robin­son brobin­son@sun­day­

IT sounds like a breath­tak­ing ac­tion scene right out of a Hol­ly­wood block­buster. But, in­cred­i­bly, this was no movie. Just mo­ments af­ter take- off, the poorly-fit­ted cock­pit win­dow of BA Flight 5390 blew out, suck­ing the pas­sen­ger jet’s cap­tain Ti­mothy Lan­caster with it.

As he dan­gled from the side of the air­craft at 17,300ft – cabin crew des­per­ately cling­ing to his legs – co-pi­lot Alastair Atchi­son took con­trol and steered the stricken plane to land.

Against all the odds, Mr Lan­caster sur­vived, suf­fer­ing only a bro­ken arm, frost­bite and shock.

And to­day, as Mr Atchi­son be­gins his re­tire­ment, tributes were paid to him by the man whose life he saved two- and- a-half decades ago.

“Alastair is a smash­ing chap,” said Mr Lan­caster, 66, now a grandad-of-five.

“He did a smash­ing job and we’re all very grate­ful to him that we’re still here 25 years down the road.”

Last week, Mr Atchi­son made his last flight as a pro­fes­sional pi­lot, go­ing from Ali­cante to Manch­ester with bud­get air­line

The skilled yet calm hero, now 60, is too mod­est to speak about his cru­cial role in the events of June 10, 1990.

But the dra­matic es­cape has be­come leg­endary in the avi­a­tion world and is even stud­ied by trainee pilots.

The BAC 1- 11 car­ry­ing 81 pas­sen­gers had just com­pleted its take­off from Birm­ing­ham when the drama be­gan.

Flight at­ten­dant Nigel Og­den walked in to the cock­pit to of­fer the pilots a cup of tea, when there was a large bang and the plane rocked.

Mr Og­den turned and saw a front win­dow pane was miss­ing and Cap­tain Lan­caster dis­ap­pear­ing though it.

The in­ci­dent had also caused the au­topi­lot to switch off, send­ing the plane into a steep plunge.

Mr Og­den grabbed hold of the cap­tain’s legs and held on de­spite first be­ing bat­tered by the suc­tion out of the cock­pit, then - 17C wind rush­ing in at nearly 400mph as the cabin pres­sure dropped.

Mr Atchi­son could not hear air traf­fic con­trol over the din and was said to be new to this model of plane but, some­how, just 18 min­utes later he had guided it safely down at Southamp­ton Air­port.

The crew ini­tially thought Cap­tain Lan­caster was dead but he came round and was whisked to hos­pi­tal where it was found he was suf­fer­ing from rel­a­tively mi­nor in­juries.

The fault had been caused by the wrong- sized bolts be­ing used to re­place the win­dow pane.

Mr Lan­caster, of Wan­tage, Ox­ford­shire, who re­tired from BA in 2003 and flew with easyJet un­til 2008, said the in­ci­dent shaped air safety. “The great thing about the avi­a­tion in­dus­try is it al­ways learns from its mis­takes and puts them right,” he ex­plained.

“Although it was an in­ci­dent we didn’t want, mis­takes were made, lessons were learned, pro­ce­dures were changed and in­ves­ti­ga­tion and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the sys­tems took place – and it won’t hap­pen again.”

In­dus­try pub­li­ca­tion Avi­a­tion Daily paid trib­ute to Mr Atchi­son’s skill as a pi­lot, de­scrib­ing him as “a re­mark­able man who saved the lives of ev­ery­body on board – an avi­a­tion leg­end in our book”.

■ A grate­ful Ti­mothy with wife Mar­garet.

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