British Airways Keeps A “Stiff Upper Lip”

The Wall Street Journal reports on a little know incident from last year where a British Airways 747 from Los Angeles to London made nearly the whole flight with only three of its four engines.

A few seconds after a fully loaded British Airways 747 took off from Los Angeles on its way to London last year, one of its four engines erupted in a spectacular nighttime burst of flame.

The fire burned out quickly, but the controversy has continued to smolder.

An air-traffic controller watching the runways radioed a warning to British Airways Flight 268 and assumed the plane would quickly turn around. To controllers’ surprise, the pilots checked with their company and then flew on, hoping to “get as far as we can,” as the captain told the control tower. The jumbo jet ultimately traveled more than 5,000 miles with a dead engine before making an emergency landing in Manchester, England, as the crew worried about running out of fuel.

The Los Angeles air-traffic-control tapes, obtained by The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, show that controllers who saw the fiery engine failure with the jet just 296 feet in the air were immediately concerned about the flight and ready to guide it back to the airport. But the decision to return or keep flying rested with the captain and the airline. Ever since, pilots and aviation regulators have debated the decision of the pilots and British Airways. Their questions: Even if the plane was capable of reaching its destination, and perhaps legal to fly, was it smart to try? And was it safe?

Whether you agree or disagree with the pilots decision, can you imagine being a passenger on that flight and witnessing the fire, only to find out you were going to “push on” in spite of the fire?

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