Eric Moody, master of airmanship and understatement

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(L to R) Flight Engineer Barry Townley-Freeman, Captain Eric Moody and First Officer Roger Greaves. Image courtesy Eric Moody.
(L to R) Flight Engineer Barry Townley-Freeman, Captain Eric Moody and First Officer Roger Greaves. Image courtesy Eric Moody.

Captain Eric Moody, the pilot-in-command of British Airways flight 9, which encountered the previously unknown hazard of volcanic ash over Indonesia on 24 June 1982, died peacefully in his sleep last week.

The Boeing 747 200 was flying near Mount Galanggung at Flight Level 370 when the crew noticed a glow around the nose similar to St Elmo’s fire. Smoke filled the passenger cabin and window seat occupants saw a stroboscopic blue glow from the engines.

At 20:42 local time the No. 4 engine surged and flamed out. The No. 2 did the same a minute later, followed with seconds by the No. 1 and No. 3 engines. Ash had choked all 4. It had been invisible on the weather radar, which was calibrated to detect moisture.

As the crew attempted to restart, Moody made a what has been described by AirlineRatings as the greatest passenger announcement in the history of aviation.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.’

Oxygen masks dropped in the cabin but on the flight deck the oxygen mask of first officer Roger Greaves was unusable. Moody increased descent to 6,000 fpm to get to a breathable altitude more quickly. He set a decision height of 12,000 feet, after which, if the engines had not started, they would attempt to ditch in the sea rather than try to cross the 11,500-foot high mountains of central Java. As the aircraft passed 13,500 feet, engine No. 4 started, followed by the other 3.

The next challenge was landing at Jakarta Halim Perdanakusuma Airport. Despite clear night conditions, the approach had to be flown IFR, as the windscreen had been abraded by the ash and was opaque. On that evening the vertical guidance of the ILS happened to be broken and Greaves used the airport’s distance measuring equipment and an approach plate from his flight bag to call out height-distance combinations, creating a virtual glideslope for Moody to fly. Asked about it later, Moody again demonstrated his mastery of language with a startling rural metaphor. ‘It was a bit like negotiating one’s way up a badger’s arse,’ he said.

In 2022 he discussed his philosophy of airmanship with Flight Safety Australia writer Steve Creedy. ‘I was always brought up to expect the aeroplane might break any minute,’ he said.

Passengers, who minutes earlier had been writing final notes to loved ones, applauded as the aircraft touched down.

Moody and his flight deck crew, Greaves and flight engineer Barry Townley-Freeman received awards including the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. The 12 cabin crew had also done an admirable job, preventing panic and teaming solo passengers together for mutual support. Two strangers who had been in nearby seats on the flight later married.

Eric Henry John Moody was born in Hampshire, England on 7 June 1941. He married Pat Collard in 1966 and was father to a son and daughter. His death was reported on 19 March 2024.

 

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks to your experience with a volcanic ash cloud and your successful outcome, airlines passed on this information to me, Ground School and Crew Resource Management training, after I began my airline career in February 1994. Rest in peace, Captain Moody, from a fellow Boeing 747 captain.

    Robert L. Cassidy

  2. I met Captain Moody at LAX around 1988 or 89. I was supervising construction projects there for several air carriers, including British Airways (BA). The BA first class lounge was located at the Thomas Bradley Terminal, and while down on the apron I met him. He approached me and asked what I was doing there. So a conversation commenced, and he told me about the volcano ash incident and how it basically sandblasted the paint off the plane, as well as the rest of this incredible event! He invited me to tour a 747 with him as I had never been on one. He also let me in the cabin to check-out the flight controls. Not being a pilot, it was impressive! I’ll never forget this day and how pleasant he was and how proud he was of being able to land the plane safely. RIP Captain Moody. Dave Compton

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