Mayday (2013) s08e02 Episode Script

Cruel Skies

VOICEOVER: Rain We're gonna get our aeroplane washed.
hail I don't know how we get through here, Bill.
We're down.
We're sliding! - .
- Oh, no.
Put on the brakes! - In a heartbeat - He's gonna crash! .
bad weather can turn an ordinary flight into a fight for survival .
in a constant battle between the planes we fly and the weather that batters them.
Brace for impact.
It's early December.
A massive winter storm is pounding the eastern United States.
This is a pretty interesting weather pattern we have for this time of year.
We're getting a mixed bag of precipitation and weather across the eastern United States.
For most people, the winter weather is no more than an inconvenience.
But for those who fly, the bad weather can be deadly.
REPORTER: A Continental Airlines commuter plane with 48 people aboard crashed into a home in suburban Buffalo.
No survivors.
One person on the ground also killed.
The plane was en route from Newark to Buffalo.
It was raining with some sleet at the time.
People are making life and death decisions every day based on the weather.
"Should I go or should I not go today?" And once they're up in the air, "How am I gonna make a decision in the next five minutes "that's gonna keep myself, my passengers or my aircraft "out of harm's way?" On this day, flights from New York to Houston have been delayed and cancelled.
Thousands of travellers are affected.
That's largely because the people in this room have decided that it is unsafe for pilots to fly in this weather.
Our mission here is to provide safety and safe flying.
What's happening now, it's an existing condition, so Looks like some big supercells in there.
This room is every pilot's first line of defence against getting caught in a storm.
It's the Federal Government's Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the meteorologists in this room scan the skies across the United States for the kind of weather that can bring down a plane.
The storm they're tracking today is just that kind of weather.
What we're monitoring is a lot of severe weather in the Carolinas, and continuing to get severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings there.
The meteorologists have detected thunderstorms moving towards Atlanta, Georgia.
They've warned pilots and air traffic controllers of the looming danger.
The result is immediate.
So you had planes that were on the ground that could not take off, then you had planes that were arriving that were unable to land, and then you have to factor in that they were going several hundred miles around this line of thunderstorms.
The meteorologists will track this storm throughout the day.
They know weather can change in an instant.
So they're not just tracking storm systems, they're also trying to predict where new storms are going to develop.
We've gotta keep our eye on every hazard and always be prepared for it to pop up.
Today, the people who work here also have to find a way to keep planes out of the storms that are rolling through the south.
As traffic managers, we need to work with the FAA in routing safe routes for aircraft to go around those thunderstorms, because they just can't go through 'em or over 'em.
So using these two images together, we can get a good three-dimensional or even four-dimensional picture of the atmosphere and how moisture is moving around in there.
Thunderstorms are a lethal threat to pilots.
The clouds that contain them are massive.
They're usually much too tall to fly over and the weather inside them can be treacherous.
In no instance does any aircraft want to go into a thunderstorm.
Lightning strikes, hail can certainly damage the airframe, and in the extreme cases, there can be so much liquid precipitation in that thunderstorm that it'll cause a jet engine to flame out.
The meteorologists here understand the danger of thunderstorms, and one devastating crash has taught them much of what they know.
It's April 4, 1977.
- Good afternoon, sir.
- Good afternoon.
May I see your boarding pass, please? Southern Airways Flight 242 is bound for Atlanta, Georgia.
Just down the aisle on the right, sir.
Enjoy your flight.
Thank you.
Boarding pass.
MAN: Here in the United States, the weather in the south-east usually consists of high humidity and high temperature.
That's a perfect recipe for a thunderstorm.
(RADIO CHATTER) WOMAN: It was raining in Huntsville, and I said, "Oh, it's gonna be some bad weather.
Don't serve.
" So we did not serve from Huntsville to Atlanta, which is a very short route, and we were delighted not to be serving.
Aircraft dispatchers provide flight crews with pre-flight weather information.
Looks like you guys got a good one coming.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Sure thing.
Have a good one.
That weather was two hours old.
It was no longer updated.
MAN: I was a little surprised that we took off when we did.
I really thought that we'd taxi out to the end of the runway and hold for a while, because the weather looked so bad.
But we taxied out and immediately took off.
Before the pilots get very far, they receive an ominous weather warning from air traffic control.
Southern Airways 242, I'm painting a line of weather which appears to be moderate to possibly heavy precipitation.
Starting about five miles ahead.
We're in the rain right now.
It doesn't look much heavier than what we're in right now, does it? (THUNDER CRASHES) FEITH: Back in 1977, pilots were more reliant on their own skills, abilities and knowledge than they were on air traffic control.
In this particular instance, they had onboard weather radar.
I can't read that.
It just looks like rain, Bill.
- What do you think? There's a hole.
- There's a hole right there.
That's all I see.
Pilots use their radar to avoid bad weather.
They stay away from regions that are illuminated on the display screen.
Coming over, we had pretty good radar.
I believe right, straight ahead - there.
The next few miles is probably the best way we can go.
So between that information and looking out the window, they were able to make what they believed were the right decisions about traversing the weather.
As the pilots of Southern Airways Flight 242 attempt to carve a path through the thunderstorms, they encounter a wall of storm cells.
That looks heavy.
Nothing's going through that.
The storm closes in on the aircraft.
- That's a hole, isn't it? - It's not showing a hole, is it? The gap between the thunder heads the pilots thought they had seen on their radar no longer seems to exist.
Pilots don't like thunderstorms in any way, shape or form, only because it poses a threat to the safe operation of the airplane.
Because of the high velocity winds, the potential for hail, windshear - that all has a dramatic effect on the capabilities of not only the pilot, but of course the aircraft as well.
- (BANG!) - (THUNDER CRASHES) (HAIL CLATTERS) FOSTER: The hail was probably the loudest noise I've ever heard.
It sounded like I was in a metal barrel with someone throwing rocks at me.
The DC-9 plunges into the storm clouds.
Which way - do we cross here or go out? I don't know how we get through here, Bill.
Enormous hailstones continue to pound the aircraft.
- You're just gonna have to go out.
- Yeah - right across that bed.
All clear, left - approximately right now.
The pilots try to escape the storm.
They use their radar to guide them through it.
I think we can cut across there.
But their radar is deceiving them.
What they think is a hole is in fact the most intense part of the storm ahead.
FEITH: The pilots of Southern Airways 242 ended up flying into an environment where multiple thunderstorms came together and created a line, or what they call a squall line.
That's an area of fast-moving thunderstorms.
The weather system is moving very quickly and that created not only tornadoes but high-velocity winds and hail.
OK, 242 - we just got our windshield busted.
We'll try to get her back up to 15,000.
We're at 14,000.
FOSTER: While I was looking out at the front of the left engine, I could see the hail continuing to put more and more dents into the cowling around the engine and into the cone in the centre of the engine, and the engine was starting to make sounds like it was quitting.
The torrent of hail and water overwhelms the engines of the DC-9.
It clogs the critical airflow passages and causes the engines to break apart.
Left engine won't spool! Our left engine just cut out.
You say you lost an engine and busted a windshield? (OVER RADIO) Yes, sir.
My God! The other engine's going too.
We've got the other engine going too.
- Southern 242 - say again.
- Standby.
We lost both engines.
What happens next leads to one of the most horrific crashes in aviation history and spurs fundamental changes to the way weather forecasts are made.
Brace for impact! High above Georgia, Southern Airways Flight 242 is falling from the sky.
(OVER RADIO) We lost both engines.
This DC-9 is a glider.
And it's falling at 56 feet per second.
They're at 14,000 feet.
They don't have a lot of time.
FOSTER: I realised I was in an emergency situation and I felt like I was going to die, but I'd decided I would do everything I could to try to help my chances.
The plane emerges from the storm with two dead engines.
Get those engines started.
Bill, you have to find me a highway.
Let's get the next clear open field.
No, Bill! Lyman Keele is a young man who has just come back from the proving ground of South-East Asia, where he was a naval aviator.
He learned the niceties of landing on a rolling, pitching aircraft carrier, in the South China sea in the middle of the night.
What he was confronted with right now was even a greater task, the greatest task he had ever confronted in his life as an airman.
They're down to 50.
Unable to restart the engines, Lyman Keele prepares to land his aircraft on Georgia State Highway 92 without power.
I'm gonna land right over that guy.
There's a car ahead.
I got it.
I got it now.
I got it.
Brace for impact! The aircraft touches down on the highway running through the town of New Hope, Georgia.
Before the plane completely stopped moving, there was fire blowing through the cabin.
The plane clips a utility pole .
and slams into a gas station.
Ah! WOMAN: Where I found myself, after we woke up, was sort of indescribable.
And I could see a crack of light, and I thought, "I'm going through that crack of light, "come hell or high water.
" (BANG!) (GASPS) WOMAN: I saw red reflection, like fire, in the door.
That's when I saw what was happening.
I saw smoke and fire .
and the people that were coming toward me.
They weren't screaming, they weren't yelling, they were quiet.
I got back to the kitchen, and I was just circled by people.
They knew they were in a house.
And I guess they felt safe.
And they needed somebody to help them.
And I'll remember to the day I die, just staring there .
at the trees burning, and the pine trees burning, the pieces of aircraft, it was so unreal.
22 people survived the crash of Flight 242.
72 people were killed.
REPORTER: Southern Flight 242 crashed after the DC-9 jet lost power in both engines.
The tragedy involving Flight 242 was avoidable.
Had the crew been provided up-to-date weather information when they were in Huntsville, had they had an understanding of the area of thunderstorms, how they were starting to come together and how it was gonna affect their route of flight, they probably either would have found an alternate place to go, or they would have stayed in Huntsville.
(SIRENS BLARE) The importance of timely weather information makes the Aviation Weather Center critical.
After Southern Airways 242 crash in 1977, the NTSB, after their research, came out with two recommendations.
One was to improve the resolution of the convective, or the thunderstorm forecast information, and the other was to put weather service meteorologists in each of the air traffic control centres.
And within a year, we did that.
At the time of the Southern Airways crash, the weather centre issued thunderstorm advisories every four hours.
And in the United States, that's just too long of a window to capture the rapid development that we see in thunderstorms.
So what they recommended, and which we've done ever since, is communicate to controllers and to pilots that are en route every hour and, if need be, we can do it in between those hourly observations if conditions are developing fast enough.
As a result of the crash, the weather centre created a new position - a meteorologist who does nothing but monitor the skies above the United States for thunderstorms.
On this December day, the meteorologists tracking thunderstorms are very busy.
Storms that had battered Atlanta are on the move.
And you can see, up in here, there's a minimum of aircraft, especially where those heavier storms were, over eastern North Carolina.
In addition to providing weather reports, the people here perform other crucial tasks.
When the weather gets bad enough, they can also shut down huge areas of airspace.
They do that by issuing warnings called SIGMETs.
It's short for "Significant Meteorological information".
It's an advisory to pilots to steer clear of the bad weather.
Right now on radar.
Once we become aware or are highly confident that there will be some dangerous weather, severe turbulence or severe icing, then we will issue what's called the SIGMET.
What do I want the pilots to do? I want them to avoid that area.
The lightening - it's still pretty recent.
Today's storms are so severe that the meteorologists at the Aviation Weather Center are declaring areas of airspace out of bounds for aircraft.
We issued a large area, from Norfolk down to the coastal waters of Georgia, for severe thunderstorms.
Issuing a SIGMET is simple.
The meteorologists highlight the area that planes are to avoid on their computers.
The information is passed on to dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and pilots around the country.
Planes are diverted immediately.
Some of those planes going through there may be going around.
They may be being helped by air traffic control to actually navigate around those individual thunderstorms cells.
No doubt that they're being routed either away from or individually being very carefully, tactically moved around those thunderstorm cells.
The SIGMET issued by the Aviation Weather Center affects hundreds of flights along the eastern seaboard.
Once it's issued, pilots often have to find a way around the danger zone.
It's no longer just a suggestion.
There are legal consequences to people to adhere to what we've put out.
They're just legally not allowed to go into that airspace while that SIGMET's in effect.
Declaring a SIGME has enormous implications.
Shutting down a volume of space that's the size of, say, Georgia.
So that severely impacts traffic.
The FAA and the air traffic controllers now need to decide how they're going to, as a system, move these routes and these aircraft, which can be hundreds of them, operating in this space around this particular hazard over the next four to six or even longer hours.
Planes can fly around the area affected by a SIGME but that increases travel time and costs the airlines in extra fuel.
The alternative is to keep planes on the ground until the SIGMET is lifted.
They may increase safety, but SIGMETs are a headache for airlines and air traffic controllers.
It averages out about 7,000 planes to 8,000 planes at any moment being managed.
And so when you start shutting down large areas of airspace, which we certainly can do on a very active thunderstorm day, it leaves very little operating room for air traffic controllers to put claims through.
Technology allows the meteorologists here to keep planes away from dangerous weather.
But in aviation, some of the most dangerous weather is all but invisible.
August 2, 1985.
10-degree flaps, please.
Delta Airlines Flight 191 is approaching Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
Contact departure when airborne.
Texas heat has turned into afternoon storms.
Traffic at the airport is beginning to back up as the weather gets worse.
We're going to get our airplane washed.
What? We're going to get our airplane washed.
Nothing seemed unusual other than we were starting to get busy and aircraft were starting to pile up.
Power, Delta 191 heavy, out here in the rain.
Feels good.
191 heavy We're not getting any bad warnings from the weather or from other pilots, which we rely on as they come through it.
As the pilots of Delta 191 prepare for landing, the rain begins to fall harder.
MAN: It seemed like the closer we got into DFW, the worse the weather got.
And it was turning into the rain instead of going around it.
At the foot of the runway, one of the most ferocious types of storm clouds stands in their way.
- Before landing check.
- Landing gear? Down, three green.
At the time, the type of storm the Delta crew was approaching barely has a name.
John McCarthy is one of the world's leading experts on these storms.
It is a tiny thing, meteorologically speaking, compared to a big storm or a snowstorm or a hurricane.
It's just a like a needle in a haystack.
The needle is a microburst, one of the deadliest and, at the time, most poorly understood weather phenomenon.
They've taken down airliners before.
But as Delta 191 makes its approach, there are no warning systems that can effectively alert the pilots of the danger they're in.
Prior to 1985, the radars onboard the aircraft were built to detect thunderstorms.
Essentially heavy areas of precipitation.
They were not effective, they weren't even designed to detect a microburst.
If you're at the kitchen sink and you turn on the water and it goes straight down and splashes out in all directions, and that's kind of what a microburst is.
Except that it is extremely bad news if you're an airplane flying through it.
When a plane hits a microburst, it encounters a complex and powerful set of conditions.
Down draughts and tailwinds batter a plane.
It's a deadly combination.
At its maximum strength, it's no more than two miles across and it lasts no more than 15 minutes.
So if you look at that little space-and-time window, it's very small.
And so the probability of hitting one is low.
Just short of the runway, Delta 191 flies into the microburst.
You're going to lose it all of a sudden.
There it is.
Push it up! Push it way up! Way up! - Way up.
- Way up! MEIER: I pulled my seatbelt as tight as I could but at the same time, you could hear a pin drop.
Nobody was talking.
Hang on to the son of a - He's gonna crash! - Dammit! The pilots of Delta Flight 191 did their very best to recover from their situation.
And it didn't work out.
PORTER: I must've caught sight of him just at the last millisecond and he cartwheeled into the tank in just an instant and then of course there was fire, not a ball of fire but a wall of fire.
(SIRENS WAIL) It seemed like it was only a few seconds.
Five seconds at the most.
I don't know how long it was.
We was Everything was stopped.
Then all of a sudden you look up and it's just nothing there.
Everything's gone.
You just see the whole big picture outside.
Like the plane just opened up.
People just thrown around on the ground.
Some with clothes on, some without clothes on.
Some were burned.
Just 27 people survived the crash of Delta 191.
(SHOUTS) Help! Over here! 137 people are killed.
I had seen death before as a medic in Vietnam.
But it had never been aimed at civilians, certainly not on a mass casualty situation and certainly not this suddenly.
McCARTHY: It's hard to blame the air crew.
Their job is to avoid thunderstorms and there's probably a forecast for thunderstorms every day at Dallas in the summertime.
Which ones do you avoid? And it's, you know, it's a very difficult problem.
After the crash of Delta 191, the Federal Aviation Administration races to develop technology that can prevent microbursts from killing again.
If there is one crash that we can look back on now and say, "This made things safer because we learned from it," it was Delta 191.
One of the most important lessons - that the technology in use at the time simply wasn't good enough.
What we found out is that Doppler radar, which is on the ground, is incredibly effective in detecting microbursts.
Unlike weather radar in use at the time of the crash of Delta 191, Doppler radar can also detect the direction of winds inside a storm.
And if you look through the Doppler radar, you see a part of it that's going away from the radar and a part that's coming towards the radar.
And if it's small, it's absolutely a microburst.
It can be nothing else.
So it has what we call an unambiguous signature of a microburst, which means we got it.
When the Doppler radar system at an airport detects a microburst, it sends an alert to air traffic controllers.
The controllers relay the warning to pilots on approach Flight 236, microburst alert.
MAN: 5-0 not logged.
One mile final.
Say intentions.
After the crash of Delta 191, terminal Doppler weather radar was installed in airports across the United States.
Dallas Fort Worth was one of the first to apply the system.
But technology is only one link in the chain.
Sometimes, even with all the right information, pilots make disastrous decisions.
There's your big whatdiddley.
We got to get over there real quick.
This December day has been a long one for thousands of airline passengers across North America.
A winter storm is moving across the south-eastern United States.
The meteorologists at the Aviation Weather Center have shut down a large area of airspace.
Hundreds of flights have been grounded or forced to divert around the storm.
But shutting down that airspace doesn't take the pressure off.
If thunderstorms do start to develop and become very strong and organised, we can't let that distract us from other hazards such as icing, turbulence, or even strong surface winds or low-level windshear.
The meteorologists here can see troubling weather ahead and let pilots know how to avoid it.
But sometimes what pilots do with that information can lead to disaster.
June 1, 1999.
American Airlines Flight 1420 has been delayed by weather.
Dispatch, please.
It's Michael Origel.
Storms threaten this flight's destination - Little Rock National Airport in Arkansas.
The pilots of 1420 had received a briefing from their dispatch department about all of the thunderstorm activity that they were going to encounter between Dallas and Little Rock.
They were also warned about the fact that because of the fast-moving weather system, that they would be entering into an area called, or what was characterised as, the Bowling Alley.
Two hours behind schedule, the pilots decide to make the flight.
They race to fly through a gap in the storm system.
Looks like it's moving this way, though.
Just some lightning straight ahead.
Think we're going to be OK, though.
- Right there.
- Yep, right down the Bowling Alley.
As my friends would say, California cool.
If they don't make it in time, they will either have to divert to another airport or land in severe weather conditions.
They were made aware by dispatchers that they were going to have to get into this alley, or this area of clear weather, and they didn't have a lot of time to do it.
But as they near the airport, the weather gets even worse.
MAN: American 1420, it appears we have a second part of a storm moving through.
The wind now is 340 at 16, gusts, 34.
Did you notice something? Did you see the airport there? Where? There, OK.
Right You're on a base for it, OK? - It's right there.
- I'm on a base now? It's like a dog leg.
We're coming in and there it is, right there.
I lost it.
I don't see how we can maintain visual.
MAN: The plane was rocking and rolling at that point.
It was pretty doggone unstable.
I don't know what made me aware, so doggoned aware, that we were going to have a problem.
I don't know what did that.
One of the things that we analysed was a statement by the captain that was recorded on the cockpit voice recorder.
I hate droning around visual at night and weather without having any clue where we are.
It gave us an indication that they didn't have situational awareness.
They didn't really understand the gravity, the environment that they were flying into.
American 1420, right now we have heavy rain on the airport.
I don't have new weather for you but visibility is less than a mile and the runway 4-Right RVR is 3,000.
As the pilots of American Airlines Flight 1420 attempt to land, visibility has been reduced even further.
The wind's now 350 at 30.
Gusts, 45.
Can we land? 030 at 45, American 1420.
3,000 RVR? We can't land on that.
- No, 3,000 - What do we need? - No, it's 2,400 RVR.
- OK.
We're fine.
The stress level of a pilot increases especially in an environment where there's thunderstorms, only because multiple decisions are having to be made in very short periods of time.
Er, 15? Landing gear down.
And lights, please.
The pilots could divert to another airport but they decide to attempt the landing.
Air traffic controllers have detected a dangerous crosswind on the runway.
Windshear alert.
Centrefield wind, 350 at 32.
Gusts, 45.
North boundary wind, 310 at 29.
North-east boundary wind, 320 at 32.
1,000 feet.
- 4040 land.
- This is a can of worms.
Wind is 330 at 28.
I'm going to stay above it a little.
A runway to your right.
Got it? - No.
- I got the runway in sight.
- You're right on - I got it.
- Stay - I got it! I got it! Wind, 330 at 23.
- Damn, we're off course.
Way off! - No, I can't see it.
I can't see anything.
- Got it? - Got it! With winds pounding the airport and the runway slick with rain, the pilots make their final approach.
(THUMP!) (SQUEALS) We're down.
We're sliding! Oh, no! They lose control of the aircraft as they speed down the runway.
On the brakes! (SCREAMING) - Other one! - Other one! Other one! The plane runs off the end of the runway and crashes into several steel columns.
SCHMIDT: I knew I was not going to die in that thing.
I got out of that plane probably in 10 seconds.
It was like being in a war - "Go, go, go!" But not everyone is so lucky.
11 people are killed in the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420, including Captain Richard Buschmann.
Did they really know what they were getting themselves into? That was a key point for us as investigators.
They went into an environment that was detrimental to their safety.
The National Transportation Safety Board rules that the pilot's decision to land at Little Rock Airport was the primary cause of the accident.
On the day of the crash, the pilots of Flight 1420 had to rely on controllers to relay information about conditions on the runway.
At the Aviation Weather Center, meteorologists are trying to get rid of that middleman.
We can provide a picture right in the cockpit and the pilot can navigate looking at a picture as opposed to trying to translate some words that they've heard read to them over a radio.
They can see what the hazard's gonna be in relation to aircraft and start making decisions immediately, as opposed to decoding, drawing where that hazard is, thinking about where they are in relation to the hazard, and then trying to make that decision.
It will speed up the process.
Throughout the day, meteorologists in this room have been tracking a band of fierce thunderstorms in the southern United States.
Those storms are beginning to die down.
Meteorologists have started to reopen airspace they had previously closed.
Air traffic is returning to normal.
HARRIS: The most active convective weather was over eastern North Carolina and southward.
Now, there is a lot of lower-topped precipitation that doesn't have thunderstorms, and they're more than likely if they're going up across western North Carolina and central Virginia, they're able to pretty much fly over that weather.
The thunderstorms in the southern United States are dying down.
But the meteorologists are now keeping a close eye on a very dangerous new development - a volcano south of the United States.
MAN: Volcanic ash clouds can be a hazard and do a lot of damage to the aircraft and to engines.
Nolan Duke is tracking weather over the Gulf of Mexico.
This is Soufriere Hills volcano - this is near Antigua and the Windward Islands, south-east of Puerto Rico, and it blew its stack.
Soufriere Hills volcano has been venting ash for the past week.
The volcanic ash cloud it's been releasing could prove deadly if pilots were to fly through it.
The Aviation Weather Center has issued a SIGME to keep planes away from the plume.
HARRIS: Each one of these frames is an hour.
And by sunrise, the volcanic ash cloud is this little milky region right in here.
Sometimes it's very difficult to discern between the ash clouds and the meteorological clouds.
But a well-trained eye with a lot of experience will see this ash cloud.
We have 30,000 people living on platforms - drilling platforms out here at any given time.
And they have 650 helicopters that fly every day over the northern Gulf of Mexico delivering people, materials and food to keep these drilling operations going.
We thought it would end yesterday and they forecasted it to puff and disappear but it's still going today.
As long as we can see ash plume, we will continue to issue the SIGMET.
Unlike ash that you might see in a chimney or after a fire in a forest, this is not soft material at all.
This is very fine ground-up particles of solid rock and minerals.
But that fine dust has the power to stop a 300-tonne airliner.
On June 24, 1982, the devastating effects of an ash cloud took the crew of a British Airways jet completely by surprise.
MAN: Barry and I were just sitting there minding the shop - pitch-dark night, of course - and then we started to get these pinpricks of light on the windscreen.
Mount Galunggung on the island of Java has erupted but no warnings have been issued to pilots.
When the 747 flies into the cloud, it collides with the volcanic ash particles inside.
The friction creates a bright, shimmering glow on the windscreen.
CASADEVALL: Because it's such a dry environment up there, that frictional electrification produces the glow that we refer to as 'St Elmo's fire'.
Same on my side! But the crew had no idea what they were looking at.
This light show, if you like - it became more intense.
In fact, we ended up sitting there with two sheets of brilliant white light in front of us in place of the windscreens.
Passengers aboard the flight also see a strange glow around the plane's jet engines.
Dad! Smoke begins to seep into the cabin around them.
Volcanic ash has been sucked into the aircraft's ventilation system.
(PASSENGERS COUGH VIOLENTLY) With ash particles clouding the cabin and the aircraft lit up, the volcanic cloud deals its most deadly blow.
(ALARM BEEPS) Engine failure! Number four! - Fire action, number four.
- Check The ash has snuffed out one of the jet's four massive engines.
Whoa! Start lever! Off.
There were huge flames coming out of the back of the engines, 20 - some people said 40 - feet long, shooting out of the back of all the engines.
Is it going to penetrate from the outside of the aircraft? Is it going to come into the cabin? Are we going to burn to death? Are we going to choke to death on the smoke? (PASSENGERS COUGH, GASP) Number two engine's gone.
Alright, then - begin the engine shutdown.
- No, wait! - (ENGINES WHINE) All four engines have failed! MAN: The other three just went out almost immediately, and that's when it begins to be a serious emergency.
5 minutes, we'd gone from four engines running normally to having none.
The 747 is suddenly powerless and it's quickly falling to the sea.
Starting the engines has become the crew's only priority.
But volcanic ash is masking that task impossible.
The temperature in the combustion chamber where this ash is flowing through - around 2,000 degrees Centigrade, and so the volcanic ash, we know, melts at about 1,300-1,400 degrees.
The volcanic ash transforms into molten goo within the jet engines.
The material blocks key air passages and causes the engines to surge and shut down.
We got a fundamental disturbance of the airflow in the main core of the engine, which caused the engine to backfire and the engines flamed out, and that was the cause of the problem.
Declare emergency.
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Speedbird 9! We have lost all four engines out of 3-7-0.
Without the engines, the 747 begins to fall from the sky.
At an altitude of 35,000ft, the pilots have less than half an hour before their aircraft will crash into the Indian Ocean.
- Alright.
Begin restart drill.
- Set! - Battery! - Check! On! The standard restart drill takes three minutes to complete.
Anything? - Anything?! - No! - Again.
- Alright, then - from the top! Battery? The crew will have fewer than 10 attempts to start the engines.
Fire switch? In! British Airways flight 009's dead engines are having an effect inside the cabin.
The engines usually maintain air pressure.
Without them, the pressure is dropping.
Passengers are having difficulty breathing.
(BOTH GASP, SCREAM) OK, breathe normally, Mum - not deeply.
- MAN: Standby panel? - Open! - Cross-speed dial? - In! - Fire switch? - Closed! We hadn't had any success with the drill at all, despite all the efforts we were putting in, but it was the only thing we had left to cling onto, so that's what we did.
- From the top again! Battery? - Check.
On! Standby ignition on.
Start lever on.
Alright, are we getting something? It's not starting! I knew it was so difficult to land aeroplanes on the sea, even when you had everything going for you.
And I thought that, "Well, we haven't got much going for us here.
" I'd never done it before.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.
We have a small problem.
All four engines have stopped.
We're doing our damndest to get it under control.
I trust you are not in too much distress.
Alright, from the top, then! Batteries! Check! On! - Standby? - On.
Start lever? Well, anything? - No! - Alright, then, from the top again.
Battery! We had very few chances left of starting the engines before having to turn out to sea again, because we wouldn't have been able to clear the mountains on the south coast of Java.
Then, with just 12,000ft separating British Airways Flight 009 from the ocean Fuel pressure? .
engine number four roars to life.
(ENGINE RUMBLES LOUDLY) Engine four back online! The noise that a Rolls-Royce engine makes when it starts up is a low rumbling noise, you know? And it was just Well, it was wonderful to hear it.
MOODY: The glass now is half full.
It's not half empty.
We're now in with a real chance, and I'll tell you what - the three of us would've dragged that aeroplane around rhe whole island of Java.
- Thrust lever? - Closed.
- Start lever? - Cut off.
- Fuel pressure? - Eravailable.
Standby ignition - on.
Start lever - on.
(ENGINES WHINE) Engine three! Back online! I can't believe it! Engines one and two both back online! As soon as you came out of the volcanic ash - and the engines were not running, remember - so everything cooled down.
It was enough for this stuff to break off and allow the engines to restart.
We say, "Right - let's get this thing on the ground "as quickly as we can.
" Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.
We seem to have overcome that problem and have managed to start all the engines.
(PASSENGERS GASP, CHEER) (SIGHS HEAVILY) CAPTAIN: (OVER PA) We are diverting to Jakarta and expect to land in about 15 minutes.
British Airways Flight 009 landed safely.
No-one was injured, and an important lesson was learned.
We have learned quite a bit, and we've incorporated this learning into pilot training.
Pilots now, for example, know what signs to look for.
After British Airways Flight 009's emergency landing in Jakarta, communications were improved between the geologists who watch volcanoes on the ground and the pilots who must avoid the ash clouds.
MAN: During the day, they are plainly visible to pilots.
And then at night-time, they're relying a lot on their onboard radars, and that's not going to detect volcanic ash.
- Anything on the radar? - No.
So they're completely blind to it, and they just blindly fly right into the ash cloud.
Today, meteorologists were forced to shut down airspace due to violent thunderstorms and volcanic ash.
The weather on the east coast is now clearing and the volcanic plume is starting to thin.
We never really seem to get a break where we can sit back and put our feet on the desk and relax.
There's always something going and there's always the next storm coming down the pipeline and we've got to address it.
The next storm has begun to appear.
Pilots in the Seattle region are calling in with reports of severe turbulence.
Well, we've got two systems, over the west that we're watching - one now over central California and what looks like it's a little bit more powerful storm coming onshore into Washington and Oregon.
That's certainly going to be our attention-getter for the next day and a half.
More than a million people got on an airplane on this stormy December day.
Some planes were delayed, but there wasn't a single accident due to weather.
That's the kind of result these meteorologists hope for every day.
MURPHY: Ideally, we'd never have clouds or any type of hazardous weather for pilots and everything - it's be clear skies and smooth sailing.
We're here to help people be safe and when that duty calls, we're prepared.
We'll catch our breath today and get ready for tomorrow.

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