British Airways Flight 5390 was a scheduled passenger flight operated by British Airways between Birmingham Airport in England and Málaga Airport in Spain. On 10 June 1990 an improperly installed panel of the windscreen failed, at 17,400 feet (5,300 m), blowing the plane's captain, Tim Lancaster, halfway out of the aircraft. With Lancaster's body firmly pressed against the window frame for over twenty minutes, the first officer managed to perform an emergency landing at Southampton Airport with no loss of life.
The aircraft, County of South Glamorgan, captained by 42-year-old Tim Lancaster, who had logged 11,050 flight hours, and co-piloted by 39-year-old Alastair Atchison, who had logged 7,500 flight hours, was a BAC One-Eleven Series 528FL registered as G-BJRT. It took off at 08:20 local time (07:20 UTC), with 81 passengers, four cabin crew and two flight crew. Co-pilot Atchison handled a routine take-off, and relinquished control to Lancaster as the plane established itself in its climb. Both pilots subsequently released their shoulder harnesses, while Lancaster loosened his lap belt as well.
At 08:33 local time (07:33 UTC), the cabin crew had begun to prepare for meal service. The plane had climbed to 17,400 feet (5,300 m) over Didcot, Oxfordshire. Suddenly, there was a loud bang, and the fuselage quickly filled with condensation. The left windscreen, on the captain's side of the flight deck, had separated from the forward fuselage. Lancaster was propelled out of his seat by the rushing air from the rapid decompression and forced head first out of the flight deck, his knees snagging onto the flight controls. This left him with his whole upper torso out of the aircraft, and only his legs inside. The door to the flight deck was blown out onto the radio and navigation console, blocking the throttle control, causing the aircraft to continue gaining speed as it descended, while papers and other debris in the passenger cabin began blowing towards the flight deck. Lancaster hung out the window for a moment or more, when at the time, flight attendant Nigel Ogden saw the situation in the flight deck, and quickly rushed to latch his hands onto the captain's belt. Susan Price and another flight attendant began to reassure passengers, secure loose objects, and organise emergency positions. Meanwhile, Lancaster was being battered and frozen in the 345 mph wind, and was losing consciousness due to the thin air, with the outside air temperature around −17 °C (1 °F), not including the chill from the wind.
Atchison began a very rapid emergency descent to reach an altitude with oxygen because the plane was not equipped to provide it for all persons on board. Then he re-engaged the temporarily disabled autopilot, and broadcast a distress call. Due to rushing air on the flight deck, he was unable to hear the response from air traffic control. The difficulty in establishing two-way communication led to a delay in British Airways being informed of the emergency and consequently a delay in the implementation of the British Airways Emergency Procedure Information Centre plan.
Ogden, still latched onto Lancaster, had begun to suffer from frostbite, bruising and exhaustion. He was relieved by the remaining two flight attendants. By this time Lancaster had already shifted an additional six to eight inches out the window. From the flight deck, the flight and cabin crew could see his head and torso through the left direct vision window. Lancaster's face was continuously hitting that window; when cabin crew saw this and noticed that Lancaster's eyes were opened but not blinking despite the force against the window, they assumed that Lancaster was dead. Atchison ordered the cabin crew not to release Lancaster's body despite the assumption of death because he knew that a released body might fly into the left engine, in turn causing an engine fire or failure.
Eventually Atchison was able to hear the clearance from air traffic control to land at Southampton, while the flight attendants managed in the extreme conditions to free Lancaster's ankles from the flight controls and hold on to him for the remainder of the flight. By 08:55 local time (07:55 UTC), the aircraft had landed safely on Runway 02 at Southampton. Passengers immediately disembarked from the front and rear stairs, and emergency crews retrieved Lancaster.
There were no major injuries during the flight. Much to everyone's surprise, Lancaster was found to be alive, and was taken to Southampton General Hospital, where he was found to be suffering from frostbite, bruising and shock, and fractures to his right arm, left thumb and right wrist. Flight attendant Nigel Ogden suffered a dislocated shoulder, frostbitten face and some frostbite damage to his left eye. Everyone else left the aircraft unhurt.
Less than five months after the accident Lancaster was working again. He later retired from British Airways when he reached the company's mandatory retirement age of 55 at the time. In 2005 Lancaster was reported as flying for easyJet.
Accident investigators found that a replacement windscreen had been installed 27 hours before the flight, and that the procedure had been approved by the shift maintenance manager. However, 84 of the 90 windscreen retention bolts were 0.026 inches (0.66 mm) too small in diameter, while the remaining six were 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) too short. The investigation revealed that the previous windscreen had been fitted with incorrect bolts, which had been replaced on a "like for like" basis by the shift maintenance manager without reference to the maintenance documentation, in order to save time as the plane was due to take off soon and there was a tight schedule. The air pressure difference between the cabin and the outside during the flight proved to be too much, leading to the failure of the windscreen. The incident also brought to attention a design flaw in the aircraft of the windscreen being secured from the outside of the aircraft, putting a greater pressure on the bolts than if they were secured from the inside.
The windscreen was recovered in a field outside Didcot, Oxfordshire by officers from Thames Valley Police. With earlier officers having not searched for or collected the bolts from the site, PC Tony Nash returned to the site and located a number of the windscreen bolts that assisted in determining the cause of the incident.
Investigators found the British Airways Birmingham Airport shift maintenance manager responsible for installing the incorrect bolts during the windscreen replacement and for failing to follow official British Airways policies. They also found fault with British Airways' policies, which should have required testing or verification by another individual for this critical task. Finally, investigators found the local Birmingham Airport management responsible for not directly monitoring the shift maintenance manager's working practices.
Investigators made eight safety recommendations in the final accident report:
First Officer Alastair Stuart Atchison and cabin crew members Susan Gibbins and Nigel Ogden were awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air; Ogden's name was erroneously missed from the published supplement.
Atchison was awarded a 1992 Polaris Award for his ability and heroism.
Flight number 5390 is used by British Airways OneWorld code shared flight between Des Moines International Airport, Iowa and Chicago-O'Hare, Illinois, in the United States. This is operated by Envoy Air (American Airlines largest regional carrier) as flight number 3558.