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B734, vicinity East Midlands UK, 1989

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Revision as of 06:55, 20 December 2013 by Integrator1 (talk | contribs)
On 8 January 1989, a British Midland Airways Boeing 737-400, suffered a loss of control followed by terrain impact in the vicinity of East Midlands Airport, UK, on final approach, after an earlier engine malfunction had been followed by the shut down of the wrong engine.
Event Details
When January 1989
Actual or Potential
Event Type
Airworthiness, Fire Smoke and Fumes, Human Factors, Loss of Control
Day/Night Night
Flight Conditions IMC
Flight Details
Aircraft BOEING 737-400
Operator British Midland
Domicile United Kingdom
Type of Flight Public Transport (Passenger)
Origin London Heathrow Airport
Intended Destination Belfast/George Best Belfast City Airport
Actual Destination East Midlands Airport
Flight Phase Manoeuvring
Location - Airport
Airport vicinity East Midlands Airport
Tag(s) Fire-Power Plant origin
Tag(s) Ineffective Monitoring,
Procedural non compliance,
Inappropriate crew response (technical fault)
Tag(s) Cabin air contamination
System(s) Rotors,
Engine Fuel and Control
Safety Net Mitigations
Malfunction of Relevant Safety Net No
GPWS Available but ineffective
Stall Protection Available but ineffective
Damage or injury Yes
Aircraft damage Hull loss
Non-aircraft damage Yes
Injuries Most or all occupants
Fatalities Many occupants ()
Causal Factor Group(s)
Group(s) Aircraft Operation,
Aircraft Technical
Safety Recommendation(s)
Group(s) Aircraft Operation,
Aircraft Airworthiness
Investigation Type
Type Independent


On 8 January 1989, a Boeing 737-400 being operated by British Midland Airways on a scheduled passenger flight from London Heathrow to Belfast Aldergrove experienced a malfunction in an engine and the engine believed to be at fault was shut down. It was decided to make an en route diversion to East Midlands, but when thrust was increased on the engine believed to be serviceable on final approach, it failed and a fire warning was annunciated. Loss of control was followed soon afterwards by terrain impact in the vicinity of East Midlands which led to the destruction of the aircraft. There was no post crash fire but 39 of the passengers died as a result of the impact and a further 82 of the 126 occupants sustained serious injuries which in 8 cases led to their subsequent death.


An Investigation was carried out by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch (UK) (AAIB). Data from the 25 hour Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the 30 minute Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) were successfully recovered and the absence of any post crash fire in the fuselage permitted an unusually comprehensive and valuable examination of the wreckage.

A Special Bulletin S2/89 was issued on 20 March1989 to summarise factual information then available and to list the 7 Safety Recommendations which had been made to the UK CAA up to and including 23 February 1989.

It was established that as the aircraft was climbing through FL283 with the First Officer as PF, a series of compressor stalls had occurred in the No 1 engine. These resulted in airframe shuddering, ingress of smoke and fumes to the flight deck and fluctuation of the corresponding engine indications.

The aircraft commander had almost immediately disengaged the AP and “although no words were said, it was apparent to the First Officer that the Commander had taken control of the aircraft”. The crew responded rapidly and instinctively by disconnecting the A/T and reducing thrust on the No. 2 engine without any apparent assessment of the appropriate or otherwise available actions and without noting the indications on flight deck engine instrumentation.

ATC were advised of an emergency involving an engine malfunction and possible fire. The aircraft commander had immediately begun communications with Company Operations on the second radio whilst the First Officer was following a critical Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) procedure during which confirmation was required at various points. Shortly after the No 2 engine had been shut down some 5nm away from East Midlands, where the Company Head Office and engineering base was located, the Commander had agreed to a request from Company Operations to divert there and ATC had been advised accordingly.


This is an extract from the official report into the accident published by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) UK:

The aircraft “[…] left Heathrow Airport for Belfast at 1952 hrs with 8 crew and 118 passengers […] onboard. As the aircraft was climbing through 28,300 feet the outer panel of one blade in the fan of the No 1 (left) engine detached. This gave rise to a series of compressor stalls in the No 1 engine, which resulted in airframe shuddering, ingress of smoke and fumes to the flight deck and fluctuations of the No 1 engine parameters. Believing that the No 2 engine had suffered damage, the crew throttled that engine back and subsequently shut it down. The shuddering caused by the surging of the No 1 engine ceased as soon as the No 2 engine was throttled back, which persuaded the crew that they had dealt correctly with the emergency. They then shut down the No 2 engine. The No l engine operated apparently normally after the initial period of severe vibration and during the subsequent descent.

The crew initiated a diversion to East Midlands Airport and received radar direction from air traffic control to position the aircraft for an instrument approach to land on runway 27.

The approach continued normally, although with a high level of vibration from the No 1 engine, until an abrupt reduction of power, followed by a fire warning, occurred on this engine at a point 2.4 nm from the runway.

[…]The commander called immediately for the first officer to relight (ie restart) the other [No .2] engine and the first officer attempted to comply. The commander then raised the nose of the aircraft in an effort to reach the runway.

[…]The last airspeed recorded on the FDR was 115 kts212.98 km/h
59.11 m/s
. No power became available from the No 2 engine before the aircraft struck the ground”.

The Cause of the accident was given as:

“The cause of the accident was that the operating crew shut down the No.2 engine after a fan blade had fractured in the No.1 engine. This engine subsequently suffered major thrust loss due to secondary fan damage as power was increased during the final approach to land.”

The Report identifies the following contributory factors to the incorrect response of the flight crew:

  • The combination of heavy engine vibration, noise, shuddering and an associated smell of fire were outside their training and experience.
  • They reacted to the initial engine problem prematurely and in a way that was contrary to their training.
  • They did not assimilate the indications on the engine instrument display before they throttled back the No. 2 engine.
  • As the No 2 engine was throttled back, the noise and shuddering associated with the surging of the No 1 engine ceased, persuading them that they had correctly identified the defective engine.
  • They were not informed of the flames which had emanated from the No.1 engine and which had been observed by many on board, including 3 cabin attendants in the aft cabin.

The Report's recommendations, beginning on page 118, also address institutional, manufacturers and organisational issues (see Further Reading).

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Further Reading

For further information see the full accident report and appendices published by AAIB.