What We Learned From a Plane Crash Victim’s ‘Ask Me Anything’

Jan 12, 2018

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On January 17, 2008, a British Airways Boeing 777-200ER on final approach into London Heathrow (LHR) lost power in both of its engines. The pilots did all that they could to stay aloft, but the aircraft crashed at the threshold of the runway. An investigation revealed a unique — but now fixed — flaw in the Rolls-Royce engines that caused fuel starvation in a plane that still had fuel in the tanks.

136 passengers and 16 crew safely evacuated the flight with only one serious injury and no fatalities. Ian Newborn, one of these passengers, took to Reddit recently to share his experience and answer questions. Here’s what we learned from his “Ask Me Anything.”

1. Ian got British Airways Gold elite status as compensation

Perhaps the most interesting fact from the AMA for us miles, points and elite status enthusiasts is that a “fast track” to British Airways top-tier status seems to be to survive a plane crash. And, it wasn’t just for a year either; Ian reportedly received five years of British Airways’ highest elite status as compensation for the crash.

When he was asked “How much did you get in compensation?” Ian responded:

A two-week holiday anywhere in the world for myself and three friends with business class flights.

Five years of gold level membership in the executive club.

Most importantly I got to go down the evacuation slide.

2. Passengers were taken to British Airways First Class lounge after the crash

It’s not often that you get an account of exactly what happens to the passengers after a crash. But, Ian shared his entire experience. Initially, the passengers were gathered together on the grass and then bused to the terminals. Passengers talked with police and border control.

I was lucky as I had my passport in my pocket. Those who didn’t (like my friend) were asked questions to determine if they were actually resident in the UK or had permission to enter.

After officially entering the United Kingdom, the passengers were “moved to the first class lounge,” where the alcohol had been removed and all of the televisions were turned off. There, Ian was reconnected with his traveling partner and left with her parents. “While walking back to their car a journalist for the BBC pounced on us in the car park for an interview.” There was a video of the interview, but unfortunately, the links to that video no longer work.

3. It only took a few days for passengers to receive their luggage

Noting his luggage was “flatter but intact,” Ian got his checked luggage back from the crash site in “a few days.” British Airways delivered the baggage via taxi. However, there was a slight mixup. Ian received his friend’s luggage instead of his, leading him to “wonder where the lace underwear and bras had come from for a few minutes before my brain caught up.”

4. Passengers tried to take their carry-on bags

Despite safety briefings always telling passengers to leave all carry-on bags behind, passengers on the flight tried to retrieve their carry-on bags. Because of course they did. Ian “didn’t even grab my jumper” [sweater] and evacuated in just his t-shirt. London in January isn’t exactly t-shirt weather, but Ian made the right decision.

5. There’s an audio recording of air traffic control

Despite my fascination with aviation, I hadn’t heard the ATC audio from the crash. Turns out someone has uploaded a recording of it along with a highly grainy recording of the LHR ground radar showing the quick response by fire crews:

6. Despite this crash, Ian has no fear of flying

Someone had to ask the obvious question: “Did this cause a fear of flying for you, or someone close to you?” For Ian, that answer was a no. He reportedly still flies whenever he can “and looks forward to it.”

That said, Ian’s sister “refuses to be on the same plane” with him, despite his “proven track record.”

7. The pilot was known as “Peter the Perfect Pilot”

Are you tempting fate with the nickname “the Perfect Pilot?” Perhaps. While some Redditors said he should now be known as “just plane ol’ pete,” the crash wasn’t Captain Peter Burkill’s fault. The investigation exonerated the pilots from the crash, pinning the blame on a unique engine flaw. The entire crew was awarded the BA Safety Medal and the President’s Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society. Both pilots would return to fly for British Airways.

8. Plane crashes are interesting first date material

Ian had a date arranged for two days after his eventful arrival back in London. The crash gave him “plenty to talk about” on that first date. And he “impressed her enough that she stuck around long enough” for the two of them to get married.

These were just some of the highlights, but there’s plenty of interesting material in the entire Ask Me Anything for those who have time to peruse the whole thing.

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