ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

21 October 2003


Eric Moody
Eric Moody
At their October meeting in the clubhouse at Fairoaks Airport, Woking Branch members of the Aircrew Association were fascinated by Retired Captain Eric Moody of British Airways, speaking on his encounter with the plume of ash and smoke issuing from Mount Galanggung, an active volcano on Java, South of Jakarta. He was flying at 37,000 feet in a Boeing 747, and carrying 247 passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, when he suddenly noticed puffs of "smoke" billowing out from the air conditioning vents at floor level, and a smell which he described as "acrid, or ionised electrical", such as one finds near sparks from electrical machinery. The Flight Deck windscreens became ablaze with the most intense display of "St. Elmo’s Fire" he had ever seen, and the engine intakes were glowing as if lit from within. The electrical discharges had a stroboscopic effect which gave the illusion that the fans were turning slowly backwards!

At this point, the Flight Engineer announced "Engine failure Number 4", so the crew immediately carried out the fire drill. Whilst the Captain was still worrying about the smoke coming into the aircraft, which at that time he thought was the major hazard, the remaining three engines also failed - an unbelievable event which just doesn’t happen in modern aircraft! After trimming the autopilot to control the aircraft in a gentle gliding descent the crew had time to consider all possible system faults which might explain this extraordinary situation, but it was incomprehensible. Eric Moody was one of the few BA 747 captains who had completed a simulator exercise into actions after complete engine failure, but since reality and the simulated situation were very different, this experience further added to their diagnostic problems. Indeed, they had no idea what had caused the problem until some time after they landed, as the ash cloud was only reported some days afterwards. So their initial impression was that they must have done something wrong (like fuel management, for example.)

All attempts to relight the engines failed, although the fuel had been igniting outside the engines, and treating those passengers with window seats a view of, what appeared to be, four engines on fire! At about this time, the cabin pressure reached 14,000 ft, the passenger oxygen masks were deployed, and Captain Moody was contemplating the need to turn away from the mountains and to face the horrendous prospect of having to ditch the fully loaded aircraft into the sea in the dark. His thoughts were interrupted by jubilation from the other two crew members, as No. 4 engine successfully restarted. By the time the other three engines started, an interminable 90 seconds later, they were down to 12.000 feet, where the safety height was 10,500 feet.

Following a Mayday call, they were cleared to Jakarta airport, but their troubles were not over. The Instrument Landing System glidepath information was not available for the duty runway, and while the aircraft was on base leg for landing, the crew had great difficulty in picking out the runway lights. Eventually the runway was spotted to the right of the aircraft out of the co-pilot’s side window; but when they lined up with the runway, the lights disappeared again, and the crew realised that their front windscreen was almost opaque. The final descent to touchdown was made using the localiser to stay on the centreline, and by peering through the outer edge of the front window, which was still clear. The delay before the wheels touched down felt like minutes rather than seconds but, downstairs in the cabin, spontaneous cheers and clapping broke out from the passengers.

It is true to say that the audience of aircrew was absolutely stunned by this story, of which a fuller account can be found at

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