No One Has Ever Left This Aircraft – Saudia SV163

Saudi Arabian Airlines flight 163 departed Riyadh’s international airport shortly before 10:00pm the night of August 19, 1980. 287 passengers and 14 crew members were aboard the L1011 bound for Jeddah.

About seven minutes into the flight, while climbing through 15,000ft, the crew was alerted by aural and visual indicators that there was smoke in the aft cargo compartment.

The crew then spent the next four minutes trying to confirm the warnings and finding the smoke alert procedure in the aircraft’s manual. At this point, the Captain decided to return to the airport.

The number 2 engine thrust lever became stuck and the crew then shut it down. Despite this, the aircaft landed safely back at Riyadh. Instead of stopping the aircraft, the crew continued to roll out and did not stop until on a taxiway, some 2 minutes and 40 seconds after touchdown.

The engines weren’t shut down for another 3 minutes and 15 seconds, preventing rescue crews from being able to enter the aircraft.

Rescue crews were also not familiar with the exit locations on the aircaft and it was an incredible 23 minutes after engine shutdown before the fuselage was accessed. All 301 people aboard the aircraft were killed, poisoned by the fumes from the burning interior. Review of the CVR showed a serious breakdown in crew co-ordination almost from the first sign of trouble.

The Captain failed to delegate responsibility to the other crew members, deciding to fly the aircraft and try to assess and remedy the problem as well.

The First Officer had very limited experience on the L1011 and did not try to assist the Captain in flying the aircraft or monitoring communications or systems.

The Second Officer, who was thought to be dyslexic, spent nearly all of his time searching through the aircraft’s operations manual, the whole time repeating to himself “No Problem.”

In addition, the Captain did not warn the cabin crew to prepare for evacuation nor did he even indicate that an evacuation was going to take place. Instead, he told the flight crew not to evacuate after landing.

After the aircraft was stopped, one final transmission was received, indicating that an evacuation was about to take place. The evacuation never began however. The fire had moved rapidly forward and all of the victims were found in the forward half of the aircraft though none of the doors had been opened.

It is not known why the crew was not able to better coordinate their efforts to handle the emergency more efficiently and prepare the crew for an immediate evacuation. It seems unbelievable that the aircraft could land safely with all alive on board and yet not one person was able to escape.

Following the accident, Lockheed removed the insulation from above the rear cargo area and reinforced it with high strength glass laminate.

In addition, Saudia revised their emergency procedures and evacuation training and also sealed off all of the C-3 baggage areas.

Story by Chris Kilroy