On January 8th, 1989, British Midland Flight 92 crashed onto the street near Kegsworth, Leocestershire, England. The plane was attempting an emergency landing after one of the engines needed to be shut down due to smoke filling the flight deck and vibrations throughout the plane. (1)
The plane was piloted by Captain Hunt and First Officer McClelland, both who had a lot of experience flying, but not much experience with the specific aircraft.
The cause of the problem was a broken fan blade on the left engine of the plane. However, in previous versions of the Boeing 737, the air conditioning system was fed from the right. So, when the pilots saw smoke coming through the passenger cabin, they wrongly assumed the issue was in the right engine. (1)
Though many members of the cabin and crew had seen smoke and sparks coming from the left engine, nobody spoke up, assuming that the pilots knew best and not wanting to distract them from the obvious issue at hand. (2)
Once they shut down the right engine, coincidentally, the smoke and vibrations stopped. (When the right engine was shut off, the fuel flowing to both engines was reduced.) This gave them, and everyone on board, the false idea that they had fixed the problem and would be landing safely. (1)
As they approached the airport for their emergency landing, they selected increased thrust from the only remaining engine, the broken one. This resulted in an engine fire, and it stopped working entirely. (1)
The plane hit the ground, and bounced back into the air over the motorway, knocking down trees and lamp posts in its past before ultimately crashing. No cars were on this stretch of freeway at the time, and no motorists were injured. (1)
39 passengers were found dead at the scene, and 8 died from their injuries later on. All 8 crew members survived. 79 passengers survived, 74 sustaining serious injuries. (1)
STORIES FROM THE CRASH (2)
Chris Thompson was a 33-year-old father of one and a seasoned flyer. It took him months to be able to walk again after the accident.
Remembering the crash, he says: "There's nothing you can do. You are completely, completely helpless."
He was terrified to fly again after, and couldn't do so without alcohol or tranquilizers. He had a hard time with the layout of the plane, remembering the seats in which people died. As of 2014, he has recovered and feels "rational" about flying now.
Alan Johnston was a 62-year old man who was flying back from visiting his first grandchild, a baby girl. He worked in the oil industry and had been on his fair few "unreliable" planes, and had some close calls in the Middle East and Africa.
He was initially not worried, continuing to enjoy a book his daughter had given him as passengers around him began to panic. He remained calm for awhile, but eventually realized something was wrong.
"[It was] something I had never experienced before and I tried to divert my mind as best I could."
He was among the seriously injured, and he was pulled from the plane by rescuers who thought he was dead. He survived.
Mervyn Finlay, a bread delivery man who switched his flight to this earlier one, was one of the passengers who had seen the sparks from the left engine. When they announced they were disabling the right engine, he said: "We were thinking: 'Why is he doing that?' because we saw flames coming out of the left engine. But I was only a bread man. What did I know?"
Amongst the chaos, there was some calm. Dominica McGowan, a 37-year-old mother of 3 who was studying psychotherapy, tried to calm and reassure the people around her that they would be okay. Dominica shattered her pelvis, broke all of her ribs, punctured a lung and broke her back, but ultimately survived.
After the crash, motorist Graham Pearson, assisted for over 3 hours. He helped Alice O'Hagan, a passenger who was stuck and unable to free herself, realizing after that her feet were "hanging off".
He also ran to help a woman yelling that her baby needed help. She had shielded her 7-month-old son Ryan McCallion with her body, but they were trapped under several bodies. Pearson worked to free them, and the child lived. Unfortunately, the mother didn't make it.
Pearson was praised for his help. He sued the airline and won for the PTSD it caused him.
The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) was called in to investigate the accident. But they were confused: From the beginning, it was clear the right engine was undamaged. They were even able to turn it back on and it worked fine. Initially, they had assumed that perhaps there was a malfunction that took down the right engine when the left was turned off, but it was ruled out.
That's when pilot error entered the picture, corroborated by the data recorder: It had picked up McClelland saying: "It's the le- it's the right one."
Though an alert warned them that there was an issue with the left engine, they didn't use the dial. Captain Hunt had said that on other planes in his experience, the dials were unreliable and often ignored.
Though investigations turned up that the pilots may not have been given proper training on the cockpit instruments, specifically the vibration indicators, it was ultimately decided that the decision making was hasty and dangerous and both pilots were fired.
Last year, January 8 2019, was the 30 year anniversary of the crash. Many came with flowers and candles, remembering those who died in the horrific crash. Among the guests were many of the emergency service members who were first at the scene. Even 31 years later, Kegsworth remembers the accident and all of those who, sadly, lost their lives that day. (3)