In the last few days, you've probably seen a story going around the Internet of a pilot who was sucked out of a window.
But is it true? Uh, yes. With one disappointing caveat that we'll let you read at the end (should you so choose).
On June 10, 1990, British Airways Flight 5390 was due to depart from Birmingham Airport, England, for Málaga Airport in Spain. The pilots followed normal procedures and were about 5,273 meters (17,300 feet) in altitude when passengers heard a loud bang noise, which is way up there with "wonder what this button does," "oh no", and "GODZILLA!" of sounds you don't want to hear coming from a cockpit.
The mechanic saw on a list of maintenance jobs for the aircraft that the cockpit windows needed replacing. Despite the fact that he hadn't changed a windscreen in about two years, he decided to do it himself. He briefly glanced at the maintenance manual to "refresh his memory," according to the Air Accidents Investigations Branch official report into the incident.
Given he was rustier than the screws he took out, you might think he'd be extra careful to select the correct ones. The mechanic, however, found the bolts by comparing the old bolts to new ones found in the screw drawers. Unfortunately, there were only five of the correct screws, meaning he'd have to go to a different area to collect more. This was in the middle of the night, so when he got to the carousel that contained the bolts, it was poorly lit, meaning he'd have to compare the bolts by sight in the dark rather than read the labels.
The result was that many of the bolts he actually fitted to the plane were one size down from what they should have been and not enough to hold the windscreen together at high altitude.
Back in the cockpit a few days later, Captain Tim Lancaster was about to learn this lesson the hard way. The bang was the result of the left window panel flying away from the aircraft. Lancaster, propelled by the sudden decompression, shot towards the window. Fortunately, his knees became stuck on the console.
The number 3 steward, who after this was hopefully promoted to number 1 steward, rushed in and grabbed him by the waist and held on tight. The other stewards kept their cool, secured all the other loose items, and reassured the passengers while telling them to brace.
The guy who was really keeping it cool, however, was Lancaster, who was hanging out the window of an aircraft and exposed to the extreme cold. The situation was even worse than he knew. Inside the craft, the autopilot had disengaged, which meant they were now descending rapidly, and the flight deck door had been blown inwards onto the control panel, causing the craft to accelerate as it descended.
Co-pilot Alastair Atchison regained control of the plane, while extra crew members entered the cockpit and attempted to pull Lancaster back in, unsuccessfully. Worse, the steward holding the captain became tired and frostbitten, requiring an exchange with another crew member, and he slipped another 15 to 20 centimeters (6 to 8 inches) out of the window in the handover.
With no way to pull him in, Atchison was forced to land with his pilot hanging out of the window and held by his ankles.
Astonishingly, the landing was successful and no injuries were sustained to any passengers. The only injuries sustained were to the steward who had mild bruising and frostbite, and the pilot who had bone fractures in his right arm and wrist, a broken left thumb, bruising, frostbite and, understandably, shock.
Now for the disappointing bit. The amazing photos of the pilot hanging out of the window are from a re-enactment.