On this day in history : 22nd August 1985 – A British Airtours Boeing 737 catches fire during take-off from Manchester Airport bound for Corfu; 55 lives are lost….

The aircraft involved – Image credit : G B_N Z CC BY-SA 2.0

British Airtours Flight 28M was full of holiday makers; 131 passengers, including 2 infants and 6 crew…. At 6.08am the engines started and all seemed normal – a request for clearance to taxi was made…. Once on the runway First Officer, 52-year-old Brian Love, requested take-off power and at 6.12am the take-off run began…. Twelve seconds later a loud thumping sound was heard; assuming it was either a burst tyre or bird-strike, 39-year-old Captain Peter Terrington immediately ordered the take-off to be aborted….

Unbeknown at the time to the crew No.1 engine, on the left hand side of the aircraft, had failed, resulting in an explosion…. In the process the underwing fuel tank, containing 4,590kg of fuel was struck; the leaking fuel ignited…. The fire warning signals were heard within seconds and the captain ordered evacuation of the aircraft, via the right-hand side exits…. However, the engine failure had caused the aircraft’s PA system to have a lower volume setting and many passengers did not hear the announcement….

The senior cabin crew member opened the door to release the inflatable escape slide – only for it to jam in the doorway…. He attempted to clear it but had to resort to opening the left-hand side exit – and was able to inflate the slide…. But by now the plane had filled with black smoke; passengers were unable to see – and panicked…. There was pushing, people fell and collapsed, blocking the aisle….while others clamoured over the seats…. There was simply not enough space inside the aircraft to allow people to reach the exits….

Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

Meanwhile, on the ground another calamity was unfolding…. Fire crews battled to bring the flames under control but on attempting to refill their appliances found there was no water available…. The hydrant system at the airport was undergoing modification and the valves had been turned off, without the knowledge of the fire service….

Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

This accident was one of the worst of its kind to happen in Britain…. Out of the 137 onboard there were just 82 survivors – most of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation…. In the aftermath changes were made across the air-travel industry; seating layouts near to emergency exits were changed – fire resistant seat covers, along with wall and ceiling panels were introduced…. Floor lighting was installed, more fire extinguishers made available onboard and clearer evacuation rules were devised….

Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

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