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The Manchester Tragedy

contributed by S.F., Burnelli Supporter

On August 22, 1985 at 0612 hrs. UTC, a Boeing 737-236, G-BGJL, operated by British Airtours began it's takeoff roll down runway 24 at Manchester International Airport. The plane was carrying 131 passengers and 6 crew on a charter flight bound for Corfu.

Approximately 36 seconds later, as the aircraft's airspeed passed 125 knots, the left engine suffered an uncontained failure, initiated by a failure in the No 9 combustor can, which punctured a wing fuel tank access panel. The leaking fuel ignited and burned as a large plume of fire trailing behind the engine. The flight crew heard a 'thump' or 'thud' and the takeoff was immediately aborted, throttles were closed and reverse thrust was applied to both engines. They cleared the runway onto a taxiway on the right. They had no indication of fire until about 9 seconds later. The engine fire extinguishing system was engaged with no effect due to the fire being external. An evacuation was initiated from the right side of the aircraft.

Flame penetrated the cabin rapidly due in part to the orientation of the parked aircraft. The side of the aircraft that was on fire was facing into the wind, which subsequently blew the flames towards the fuselage. Despite prompt attendance by the airport fire service, the aircraft was destroyed and 55 people on board lost their lives.

'uncontained' engine failure (explosion) caused puncture of adjacent fuel tank and death of 55 people

This is a classic example of the design flaw of mounting engines directly below wing fuel tanks. The No 9 combustion can is located in the upper right part of the engine. If this design had engines mounted in the rear of the aircraft, away from any fuel tanks, the probability of fire would have been near zero.

Interestingly enough, the safety recommendations made by British air accident investigators don't address this.

Additionally, only 40% of people engulfed in smoke survived and 8% of those who did collapsed during the evacuation. The British officials did recommend the use of smoke hoods for crew and passengers. Try asking for a smoke hood next time you fly on a commercial airliner!


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