The story of the commercial pilot who was sucked out of plane mid-flight and lived to tell the tale

  • A commercial pilot was sucked out of a cockpit window mid-flight
  • He dangled from the plane for 20 minutes
  • The flight crew had to hold his ankles and – amazingly – he survived

Published on Jan 16, 2024 at 9:16 PM (UTC+4)
by Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

Last updated on Jan 18, 2024 at 2:55 AM (UTC+4)
Edited by Adam Gray

The story of the commercial pilot who was sucked out of plane mid-flight and lived to tell the tale

A commercial pilot was sucked out of a cockpit window mid-flight and survived the terrifying ordeal.

After being dragged from his seatbelt, he spent 20 minutes dangling from the hole where the windscreen had been with the flight crew holding his ankles.

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British Airways Flight 5390 on June 10, 1990, was traveling from Birmingham in England to Malaga, Spain.

However, just 13 minutes after takeoff something went badly wrong.

Before anyone knew what was happening, a windscreen panel blew out of the BAC 1-11 aircraft at an altitude of 17,300 feet.

If that wasn’t enough, explosive decompression ripped Captain Tim Lancaster from his seat belt.

He was sucked head-first out of the hole where the windscreen had been.

His upper body was pinned against the exterior of the cockpit with his legs caught in the controls.

While every pilot, from those flying private jets to Concorde, are highly trained – there was no way Lancaster could have expected this.

Pressing the controls forward, the jetliner, whose autopilot had been turned off in the explosion, was hurled into a nosedive at 644 km/h (400 mph).

However, Lancaster’s quick-thinking crew were there to save him – and the 81 passengers on board.

Like the ill-fated crew of missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, these kind of stories often don’t have a happy ending.

They grabbed the pilot by the legs, preventing him from being thrown from the craft entirely.

“I whipped round and saw the front windscreen had disappeared and Tim, the pilot, was going out through it. He had been sucked out of his seatbelt and all I could see were his legs,” flight attendant, Nigel Ogden, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“I jumped over the control column and grabbed him round his waist to avoid him going out completely.

“His shirt had been pulled off his back and his body was bent upwards, doubled over round the top of the aircraft.”

As Ogden clung on “for grim death”, he felt the pressure begin to drag him out of the plane, too.

Other flight attendants rushed to help.

In fact, the pressure made Lancaster weigh “the equivalent of 500 pounds,” according to Ogden.

The brave flight attendant also had a narrow escape, suffering from frostbite and a dislocated shoulder during the incident.

Co-pilot Alistair Atcheson was able to execute an emergency landing at England’s Southampton Airport and everyone on board, including the Captain, lived to tell the amazing tale.

Thankfully, Atcheson was still wearing his safety harness from take-off, Ogden told the publication – or he may have been dragged from the aircraft with his colleagues and been unable to take control of the craft.

After re-engaging the plane’s auto-pilot, Atcheson flew the aircraft to an altitude with more oxygen.

Unbelievably Lancaster was still alive.

“His face was banging against the window with blood coming out of his nose and the side of his head, his arms were flailing,” Ogden said.

“Most terrifyingly, his eyes were wide open. I’ll never forget that sight as long as I live.”

Lancaster said that he was “aware of being outside of the airplane, but that really didn’t bother me a great deal.”

He shared his experience on 2005 episode of the documentary series Mayday.

“What I remember most clearly was the fact that I couldn’t breathe because I was facing into the airflow,” he said.

Crew members thought he’d died during the horror and were simply trying to hang onto his body.

He suffered frostbite, a fractured elbow, thumb, and wrist, bruising and shock.

A UK government investigation into the incident later revealed the wrong bolts were used to install the blown-out windshield.

It was swapped 27 hours before the flight during routine maintenance.

The flight crew received the civilian honor of the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

Lancaster was flying again just months later before retiring in 2008.


Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

London-based Amelia cut her journalistic teeth covering all things lifestyle, wellness and luxury in the UK capital. Fast-forward a decade and the experienced content creator and editor has put pen to paper for glossy magazines, busy newsrooms and coveted brands. When her OOO is on you can find her spending quality time with her young family, in the gym or exploring the city she loves.