How pilots deal with volcanic ash encounters

The overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth was just like any other for the crew of a Boeing 747-200 in June 1982. At 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, south of Java, all was well. That is until the crew and passengers began to notice a haze appearing in the cabin. Even though smoking was still allowed on flights at the time, this was different. It smelled of sulphur.

Passengers sat in window seats in front of the wings noticed that the engines appeared to be glowing blue. The aircraft had unknowingly entered the ash cloud from the erupting Mount Galunggung volcano and a few moments later, all four engines flamed out. The giant 747 aircraft had just become a glider.

Working through the checklists, the crew were able to restart the engines and land safely in Jakarta, Indonesia, a short time later.

At the time, the effects of volcanic ash on aircraft were not well understood. Today, pilots and airlines have procedures in place to enable us to safely deal with the threat that volcanic ash presents.

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