Flight 5390 operated by British Airways traveled from Birmingham to Málaga–Costa del Sol airport, which is the fourth busiest airport in Spain. The route has always been a popular choice for British tourists seeking a sunny Spanish vacation.
On June 10th, 1990, an alarming incident occurred. Despite being outside the usual British holiday period, Flight BA5390 was fairly well occupied with 81 passengers and six crew members onboard. The flight was operated by the stretched BAC 1-11-500 aircraft, which could seat up to 119 passengers in a five-abreast configuration.
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After a routine takeoff led by First Officer Alastair Atchison, Flight BA5390 ascended from Birmingham towards its destination in Spain. Captain Tim Lancaster took over the controls of the aircraft during the climb.
Thirteen minutes into the flight, at 08:33 local time, while cruising at an altitude of 17,300 feet over Didcot, Oxfordshire, the plot of Flight G-BJRT abruptly changed in a frightening manner.
The windscreen on Captain Lancaster’s side unexpectedly blew off with a loud explosion
The explosive separation caused a sudden decompression, propelling Captain Lancaster out of the aircraft headfirst. Fortunately, his legs got caught on the flight controls, preventing him from being completely ejected. Nonetheless, the autopilot disengaged because of the explosion, and the plane started to descend.
The cockpit door collapsed inward due to decompression, which caused the throttle controls to become jammed. To ensure the safety of the flight in terms of air pressure and oxygen levels, First Officer Atchison chose to proceed with the descent to a suitable altitude.
The reason for this was that the 1-11 airplane did not possess ample auxiliary oxygen resources to cater to all the passengers and crew on board. As this occurred, members of the cabin crew came into the cockpit to secure the body of Captain Lancaster, concerned that if left unattended, it could cause damage to the wings or be pulled into the engines
After a period of 35 minutes since the plane’s departure from Birmingham, the landing occurred. Captain Lancaster had been trapped outside of the cockpit for over 20 minutes by this time, leading his colleagues to be concerned about his chances of survival.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Captain Lancaster miraculously survived the incident, sustaining only a few injuries. The exposure to the cold caused him to suffer from frostbite, as well as experiencing bruising, shock, and fractures in his wrists, hands, and arms. Another person who was significantly affected by the event was steward Nigel Ogden, who experienced a dislocated shoulder and frostbite.
Following the incident, investigators promptly began their work to determine its cause, and their findings were just as startling. They discovered that the missing window and approximately 90 bolts had been found in Cholsey, Oxfordshire, a village situated approximately 5.5 miles from Didcot.
After conducting a thorough investigation, it was discovered that the bolts used to secure the windscreen were slightly smaller in size than they should have been. The bolts had been replaced during maintenance, specifically when the windscreen panel was changed the night before the incident occurred.