This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
On 22 August 1985, a British Airtours Boeing 737-236 aircraft, registration G-BGJL operating as flight 28M from Manchester to Corfu, experienced an uncontained left engine failure approximately 36 seconds after take-off.
The aircraft was carrying 131 passengers and 6 crew members.
The engine failure punctured a fuel wing tank access panel. Fuel leaking from the wing ignited directly behind the engine. The crew, who at the time were unaware of the fire, abandoned take-off.
On becoming aware of the fire, the Captain ordered an evacuation of the aircraft. However, the fire was carried onto and around the aircraft fuselage and it quickly developed inside the aircraft. The aircraft was destroyed by the fire and 53 passengers and 2 crew lost their lives.
An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that the fire developed in the way it did primarily because of the positioning of the aircraft relative to the prevailing wind.
The investigation also found that major contributory factors were the vulnerability of the wing tank access panels to impact, a lack of effective provision for fighting major fires inside the aircraft cabin, the vulnerability of the aircraft hull to fire and the nature of the emissions from the burning materials inside the aircraft.
The major cause of fatalities was rapid incapacitation due to dense smoke inside the cabin. This had been aggravated by delays to the evacuation caused by a door malfunction and restricted access to the exits.
The accident prompted a number of radical changes to airline safety procedures.
These include aircraft now stopping on the runway, rather than taxing away from the runway, for the evacuation. Access to emergency exits was improved with the removal of seats. Aircraft cabin materials including seat covers and wall and ceiling panels were also to be fire resistant.
A memorial to the victims of the disaster was unveiled in 2018. (BBC News)