A Much More Interesting Story

I was watching a documentary in ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 series about the University of Miami’s football program in the 80’s and early ’90s, and like many documentaries, there were a few shots of newspapers of the day, with the stories related to the program highlighted.

In one instance, however, I was much more intrigued by a story that ran alongside the one that I was supposed to be looking at. The documentary was concerned with a story about Luther Campbell, who was a big booster of the University of Miami teams, getting arrested for obscenity after performing with his rap group 2 Live Crew.

But running right next to that story in the newspaper (unidentified, but I presume it was the Miami Herald) was a story headlined “Pilot Nearly Sucked From Jet”, with the following text from the New York Times News Service:

The pilot of a passenger plane was partly sucked out of the cabin window onto the nose cone of the jet today after its windshield blew out at 23,000 feet. But he was saved by crew members who clung to his ankles for 15 minutes until the co-pilot landed the plane safely in southern England

Several of the aircraft’s 81 passengers said they watched in horror as crew members frantically wrestled to pull Capt. Timothy Lancaster back into the cockpit. The plane went into a dive, but with half of Mr. Lancaster’s body hanging outside the co-pilot flew the aircraft to Southampton Airport, 70 miles southwest of London.

Wait, WHAT?! I have a few clear memories of incidents from the news around this time frame, but I had zero recollection of something like this. Which is probably good because I would have been pretty reluctant to get on a plane after hearing about it.

I was so distracted by the story that I paused the TiVo so I could Google the headline. Turns out the New York Times actually has this story in their archive, albeit under a less eye-catching headline, and it’s just about as insane as you could imagine.

The pilot basically was hanging out the front windshield of the plane unconscious for fifteen minutes while the crew desperately hung onto him by his ankles. The man somehow wound up only needing to be treated for “shock, a fractured elbow, wrist and thumb, and frostbite on one hand.” After hanging out the broken windshield of an airplane in flight for 15 minutes.

A little more Googling turned up a 2005 first-person recollection the Sydney Morning Herald published from one of the flight attendants who saved the captain’s life, with the spectacular headline This Is Your Captain Screaming. That link is well, well worth a read – The abject terror the poor guy captures makes you understand why he had difficulty flying again.

The ironic part is that the pilot, who was unconscious throughout the ordeal, was back at work within six months and was still flying as of 2005.  I suspect someone will track him down next year for the 20th anniversary of this bizarre incident, and I’ll be interested to hear what he’s up to now.

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