1989 MY CLOSE SHAVE

It was in the March that I nearly met my maker. I was operating BA941 from Heathrow to Düsseldorf in the late afternoon on a Friday. The Co-pilot was Chris Challenger who, ironically, had come from the VC-10 having crossed the great divide like me some years before. I was in the descent and there was a small amount of turbulence so I had the passengers strapped in. As we passed 10,000ft I brought the speed down to the regulated two hundred and fifty knots. We had just cleared the cloud cover and into clear skies and I was just changing a radio frequency when I suddenly looked up and saw a light aircraft about half a mile ahead coming straight at me descending at the same rate as I was. At our closing speeds we would have collided within a few seconds so there was no time for the standard recommended avoidance procedure of each aircraft turning to the right. I remember grabbing the control column and shoving it fully forward to go underneath the guy but at that instant he did the same. The force that I used disconnected the autopilot accompanied by the loud wailing sound. It was similar to walking along the road when someone comes the other way and you both try to avoid each other and end up meeting noses. So there I was heading steeply down with the opposition doing the same. I instinctively pulled the controls fully backwards to try to go over the top of him. So what did he do? You’ve guessed it! He did the same. So I just kept pulling back harder and harder until the control column was fully wedged in my stomach. This all happened over a timespan of about three seconds and he was looming larger and larger in my windscreen and there was nothing I could do about it. My aircraft re-acted well to my demands and with the other aircraft about two hundred metres away a small escape gap was forming and he passed under the nose with about three metres to spare. I actually saw the other pilot fleetingly. Seeing him up so close and passing just under me I fully expected him to hit us somewhere in the central section of our belly but suddenly we were in the clear with our aircraft now climbing skywards at an alarming rate. It took a couple of minutes to restore the aircraft to what could be considered a normal flight path. The time taken for my total gyrations in the sky covered a timespan of just under four seconds and that included going from pushing the controls all the way to pulling them all the way back. Such was my desperation to avoid ending up scattered all over the German countryside as a statistic. Once we got the aircraft under control it was then a matter of accessing what had happened behind the flight deck door during our escapade. It was a blessing that I had strapped the passengers in since all they would do is to bounce up and down within the confines of their seat. The Cabin Crew were all female and it was established that the two at the front had got through OK by just hanging onto the door handle although they did do an airborne ballet routine during the episode. The girls ‘down the back’ were not so fortunate and they ended up careering upwards and literally bounced off the roof of the cabin and then were thrown the other way as I reversed the controls. Clearly these girls were in need of some medical attention.