Speedbird 9: The Rusting Remains of one of BA’s most Famous (and Fortunate) Jumbo Jets

(Image: Martin Third, reproduced with permission)

It looks like the rusting shell of any other defunct Boeing 747. Despite its long career with British Airways and later European Aviation Air Charter, this Jumbo Jet serial number G-BDXH almost came to a tragic end on June 24, 1982. On that day, the 747-236B aircraft was operating the scheduled British Airways Flight 9 service from London Heathrow to Auckland when all four engines failed after ingesting volcanic ash thrown up by an eruption of Mount Galunggung, 110 miles south-east of Jakarta.

In what is sometimes referred to as the Jakarta Incident, the 747, named City of Edinburgh and call sign Speedbird 9, was diverted to Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in the hope that it would glide long enough for the engines to be re-started once it had exited the ash cloud.

(Image: Anynobody, cc-sa-3.0)

The loss of all four engines led to a fall in cabin pressure as oxygen masks dropped from panels above the seats. But Senior First Officer Roger Greaves’ mask failed to work, forcing Captain Eric Moody to descend at a rate of 1,800 metres per minute to an altitude of 13,500 feet where the pressure was sufficient to breathe relatively normally.

Preparing for an unprecedented and extremely risky water landing, the pilots attempted the engine re-start procedure and, to their extreme relief, one by one, all four engines burst into life allowing G-BDXH to clear the mountains of Indonesia.

Experiencing the eerie effects of St Elmo’s Fire, Moody was once again forced to descend to 12,000 feet after the number 2 engine shut down a second time. Having cleared the mountains, Moody and Greaves lined up on finals, but the approach had to be flown almost blind due to the effects of ash on the windscreen.

(Image: Google Earth)

The crew received various commendations and G-BDXH was ultimately returned to service. The engine-less flight entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest glide of a non-purpose built aircraft and was featured in a TV documentary titled “Falling from the Sky”.

Renamed City of Elgin, 747 G-BDXH continued flying until 2004, after which it spent the next five years neglected in a corner of Bournemouth Airport. In 2009 the 30-year-old Jumbo was finally scrapped, its fuselage bought by environmental group 10:10 to be made into tags aimed at persuading individuals and businesses to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010.

If ever an ex-BA 747 was worthy of preservation, it was G-BDXH.

Keep reading – Explore 5 Creatively Recycled Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets, and check out a 747 Restaurant among 6 Abandoned Mega-Machines.



  • I’ve seen this story on TV a few times. One of the most amazing “against all odds” airplane tales ever!

  • Zeus720

    Sad, The plane was basically one of the hero’s as well. Should have been flown to Jakarta and made into a flight museum or theme attraction like some other planes.

    Imagine being a survivor and meeting in Jakarta with the plane…
    She should have retired in the sun, on the Island.

  • Tom

    You’re absolutely right, Eric, and it made for a pretty compelling TV documentary. Amazing that they got her on the ground in one piece! (Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay responding!)

  • Tom

    I know what you mean, Zeus720. It is a pity and of all the British Airways 747s past and current, I can’t imagine there’s a more famous one than this? There was a 747 turned restaurant in South Korea (I think) that has now been scrapped, and I know of a few others that survive. This would have been ideal for preservation – although I guess looking after a Jumbo, most likely outside, would be challenging…

  • Suzanne Ennazus

    Maybe it will live again as a car or a boat. That’s the good thing with recycling.

  • Suzanne Ennazus

    Oh I just read it will be made into tags for environmental issues, so it’s helping to save the planet.

  • 2nd amendment vs evil govt

    stupid British Airways should have let the old girl rest in the boneyard in Arizona…….should have shown some respect. look at the money they waste on that free loading royal family.

  • James_2014

    you clearly are a very well informed person – what intrigues me is what makes you feel they freeload any more than the President does ?(and for very very much less cost). How many engagements does the queen have every year for example? Have you counted the number of hours of interminable boredom in attending events – would you still be going strong at ninety? As I say a really thoughtful comment!


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