Falling At The Last Hurdle | Saudia Flight 163

  • Published on:  4/29/2020
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    This is the story of Saudia flight 163, on the 19th of august 1980 a saudia L1011 took off from Karachi pakistan. The plan for the day was to fly from karachi to Riyadh and to then fly onto Jeddah, the flight from Karachi to Riyadh was uneventful and at 4:06 pm local time the plane landed at Riyadh. Passengers were deboarded and their luggage was taken out for immigration. After that a sea of activity engulfed the plane, more luggage was put in the cargo hold, more fuel was added and more passengers boarded the plane. By 5:50 pm the plane was ready to go, it now had to make the short hop to jeddah.

    With 301 people onboard the plane lifted off from Riyadh at 6:08 PM. Soon after takeoff they were cleared to their cruising altitude of 35000 feet. The plane climbed into the desert sky. At 6:14 pm almost 7 minutes after take off the crew were altered to a fire in the cargo hold. For the next 4 minutes the crew tried to identify if the warning was accurate, the captain sent the flight engineer into the cabin to see if he could spot any signs of a fire. He returned 36 seconds later, with bad news.

    The cabin was indeed on fire, The captain immediately elected to turn back to Riyadh. They were now climbing through 22000 feet. the first officer gets in touch with ATC. He says “163, we are coming back to Riyadh”. He probably spoke as if nothing was wrong. Pilots have a way of staying calm under pressure. ATC wants to know why. The first officer says “We have fire in the cabin please alert the fire trucks”. As they made their turn back to the airport the fire trucks at Riyadh were on alert ready for anything. Riyadh ATC cleared them in and gave them priority for landing. They ask flight 163 if their engine is on fire, the first officer responds with “negative in the cabin”. The plane was now 78 miles out.

    At 6:21 pm the flight engineer ventured back out into the cabin to see what damage the fire had done but on his second excursion into the cabin all he saw was smoke. The flight engineer mentioned that the people in the back were panicking. I mean you are stuck in a flaming aluminum can that's travelling several hundred knots, miles up in the sky. The captain double checks with the first officer about the fire trucks he is adamant that the fire trucks be there when they land. As the captain called for the preliminary landing checklist another smoke warning went off. Saudia flight 163 was in trouble.

    At 6:24 Pm another smoke alarm goes off, To his horror the captain now realised that engine number two was unresponsive to throttle inputs. Riyadh reassures the crew they have fire trucks ready to go as soon as they land. A flight attendant enters the cockpit.She says that there are passengers fighting in the aisles. The situation is growing more desperate by the minute. At this point the CVR picked up announcements from the cabin asking people to be calm, the announcements were in english and arabic and went as follows “Please everybody sit down, move out of the way,everybody sitdown,move out the aisle,there is no danger from the airplane,everybody should stay in their seats”

    The crew radio riyadh asking them to position the firetrucks in a way that the fire trucks come up from behind the airplane. As the cabin filled with smoke the pilots searched for riyadhs runway.