Flight into terror
To be on an aircraft when all four engines stop is frightening - particularly when you are the pilot as Eric Moody recalled to John Jackson.
Life is somewhat quieter these days for former British Airways pilot Eric Moody. But the media still regularly call on him to comment on events involving aircraft - including terrorism. He also has his feet firmly on the ground wearing another hat as the information officer for the Masonic Province of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
However, life was not always so tranquil, particularly when he piloted British Airways flight BA009 from Kuala Lumpur to Perth on 24 June 1982. Also among the crew of 16 were two other Masons - Flight Engineer Barry Townley-Freeman from Berkshire and Chief Steward Graham Skinner from Brighton.
It may be more than 20 years ago, but that drama still excites the public imagination, and last November Eric won the Ross McWhirter Foundation Award, which recognises courage and good citizenship.
Eric says of the dramatic flight: 'It was a day's work, there is no doubt about that. In a way it was the highlight of my career because, having spent hours in simulators practising for emergencies, when you get away with it in real life, it is wonderful.
'I sat on the armrest of the seat approaching the runway because I could not see out of the front window because of sandblasting. However, I could see out of the side. Despite being experienced, you are only as good as your last trip, and you have to keep standards up and keep practising.'
The aircraft lifted off that night with a moonless, but clear, sky and the flying conditions were smooth, with the weather forecast good for the five-hour flight. It seemed like any other routine international air journey to Eric, the other two flight-deck members, the 13-strong cabin crew and the 247 passengers on board.
South of Jakarta, at 37,000ft and with 91,000kg of fuel on board, Eric decided to take a routine look around the aircraft. Suddenly he was called back to the flight deck and, to his horror, detected smoke coming from the floor level vents and a strange smell. On entering the flight deck, he found the windscreens ablaze with what appeared to be an intense display of St Elmo's fire. St Elmo is the patron saint of seamen, and the phenomenon is short, dancing lightning that scurries up and down the windscreen.
Retaking control of the aircraft, there was nothing of any significance coming up on the radar screen. Looking outside the plane, Eric and the crew could see the engine intakes were glowing as if lit from within. By this time the St Elmo's fire had given way to a display of what looked like tracer bullets.
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