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Special Report: British Airtours Flight KT28M

The wreckage of British Airtours KT28M. (File Photo)
The year 1985 was particularly costly in human terms for commercial air carriers. Six major incidents during those 12 months cost over 1300 people their lives.

One of the most horiffic of these incidents was the loss of a British Airtours Boeing 737-200 at Manchester International Airport. The Greek Islands enjoyed a significant increase in tourist traffic during the 1980s, and British Airtours, a subsidiary of British Airways, carried many hundreds of thousands of these tourists from Britain. In the early morning of August 22, 1985, a full compliment of 130 passengers boarded the aircraft at Manchester, bound for the Greek island of Corfu.

While the passengers stowed overhead luggage, the cabin crew prepared for a busy flight. On the flight deck, pre-flight checks passed routinely, and the aircraft proceeded to the holding area just off runway 24. Cleared for take-off, the Captain released the brakes and the aircraft began to accelerate smoothly along the runway. As the aircraft approached V1, the flight crew heard a loud thump. Believing that a tire had burst they immediately aborted the take-off run, and informed the control tower of their predicament.

However, what the flight crew had heard was the port engine partially disintegrating. Parts of the engine casing ruptured the fuel tank next to the engine, and as the aircraft began its emergency deceleration, aviation fuel gushed over the red hot exhaust and ignited.

This fire was not immediately indicated on the flight deck, where the crew was still under the illusion that a tire had burst. The flight crew then used the power of the engine reversers to arrest the progress of the airliner, which served literally to fan the flames. When the aircraft finally turned off the runway and ground to a halt, the blaze was already intense. Aviation fuel spilled out of the wing tank and formed a flaming lake on the concrete. To further hamper the evacuation, the prevailling wind then fanned the flames towards the aircraft, burning into the passenger cabin within half a minute.

The scene inside the aircraft was chaotic, and as dark clouds of toxic smoke billowed into the cabin, the crew lost precious seconds struggling with a jammed door. Many people were overcome by smoke inhalation as they struggled in the dark and confusion toward emergency exits, and bodies jammed the narrow aisle. The sheer number of passengers, and the fact that two of the exits were engulfed in flames, further hampered the evacuation. Only about 60 seconds later after the aircraft ground to a halt, the rear fuselage collapsed.

Although the emergency services arrived at the scene quickly they were unable to save 55 of the passengers, almost all of them were in the rear cabin. Dozens of the survivors suffered different injuries.

The report of the British Air Accident Investigation Branch revealed that the compression chamber on the engine had cracked and partially disintegrated due to thermal fatigue. This is caused by continual heating and cooling of metal parts. The engine fitted to the aircraft had previously been repaired for a crack in the same area, but the repair was of poor quality.

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