Ash Thursday strands The Moodie Report

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

The Moodie Report’s Big Apple bureau at the Courtyard Marriott hotel near New York JFK Airport may turn out to be a little less temporary than planned…

My supposedly whistle-stop visit to JFK – to report on a new collaboration between Diageo Global Travel & Middle East and DFS – is now threatened by ash. No, not the anti-tobacco group of the same name (though they don’t like me or our industry much) but the volcano ash cloud emanating from Iceland that has descended over much of Northern Europe, resulting in the suspension of all flights in and out of the UK.

Annoying though it is to be stranded, the decision to stop flights is absolutely the right one. Years ago when I was a young man (ok then, many decades ago), my first wife (it’s alright I’ve only had two) was on a British Airways flight from the UK to New Zealand, which flew into a volcano ash cloud over Indonesia.

When all four engines on the Boeing 747 shut down at 37,000ft, the pilot didn’t have a clue what had happened or why. All he knew was that he had to keep the plane in the air as long as possible while he and his colleagues tried to fix the problem.

Here’s how the BBC recalls what happened.

Looking out the side windows of the cockpit, the crew noticed the front of the engines were glowing as if lit inside.

Then the Captain’s flight engineer detailed the impact the dust was having on the aircraft itself.

“Engine failure number four… engine failure number two,” he said. “Three’s gone… They’ve all gone…”

Remarkably, the pilot kept the 747 in glide mode for nearly 15 minutes until he somehow kick-started the engines at 12,000 feet, minutes before it would have hit the sea.

No-one who was on that plane will ever forget the cabin announcement. “Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are all doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

A 2007  article in the Daily Mail takes up the story: In the cabin, the most ominous sound of all filled the air: a rumbling, grating noise almost like a cement mixer, followed by total silence. Flight 009 had entered that nameless void. It was falling from the sky.

Passenger Charles Capewell recalled: “The quietness was unbelievable. It seemed eerie and surreal, as if we were suspended in space. All we could feel was this quietness and the whimpering from the few people who were really upset.”

Even with three of their four engines running again, Flight 009 had difficulty landing because the pilots could see almost nothing through the ash-ravaged windshield. It was, in the immortal words of the Captain, “a bit like negotiating one’s way up a badger’s arse”.

The pilot’s name was Captain Eric Moody (below) and that particular Moody report grew into the stuff of aviation legend.

Eric

So I’m not going to complain too much about being grounded tonight. One Moody and one Moodie through a volcano cloud is quite sufficient, thank you. On Ash Thursday, New York seems a pretty safe place to be.

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  • As always, riveting and informative and amusing all in one… how do you do it??? Good luck getting home. Deb and Ed