Saudia Flight 163
Saudia Flight 163 was a scheduled passenger flight of Saudia that caught fire after takeoff from Riyadh
Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province, and belongs to the historical regions of Najd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 5,254,560 people, and the urban center of a...

 International Airport (now the Riyadh Air Base
Riyadh Air Base
Riyadh Air Base is an airport near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Two runways 01-19 and 12-30. Recently they have made a new runway 15-33....

) on a flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 19 August 1980. All 287 passengers and 14 crew on board the Lockheed L-1011-200 TriStar
Lockheed L-1011
The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, commonly referred to as the L-1011 or TriStar, is a medium-to-long range, widebody passenger trijet airliner. It was the third widebody airliner to enter commercial operations, following the Boeing 747 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Between 1968 and 1984, Lockheed...

 registered , died after the aircraft made an emergency landing back at the Riyadh airport, .

At the time, the incident was the second deadliest single aircraft disaster in history, after Turkish Airlines Flight 981
Turkish Airlines Flight 981
Turkish Airlines Flight 981 was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, registered TC-JAV and named the Ankara, that crashed in Fontaine-Chaalis, Oise, France, outside Senlis, on 3 March 1974...

. It was also the highest death toll of any aviation accident in Saudi Arabia and the highest death toll of any accident involving a Lockheed L-1011 anywhere in the world.

Passengers and crew

Saudi officials said that most of the passengers were Saudis or Pakistanis, with many of the passengers being Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

i religious pilgrims. The aviation directorate stated that 82 of the passengers boarded in Karachi and, of the passengers who boarded in Riyadh, 32 were religious pilgrims from Iran. Diplomats in Jeddah said that in addition to the Iranian, Saudi and Pakistani passengers, there were four Koreans, three Britons, two Thais, one Finn and one Irishman on board the flight. The crew included six Filipinos, three Pakistanis, and one Briton. Both the pilot and co-pilot were Saudi nationals with the flight engineer being a US national.


Flight 163 took off at 18:08 GMT to complete its final leg to Jeddah. Almost seven minutes into the flight, the crew received warnings of smoke in the plane's aft cargo compartment, C3. The next four minutes were spent by the crew trying to confirm the warnings, and by the Flight Engineer
Flight engineer
Flight engineers work in three types of aircraft: fixed-wing , rotary wing , and space flight .As airplanes became even larger requiring more engines and complex systems to operate, the workload on the two pilots became excessive during certain critical parts of the flight regime, notably takeoffs...

 going back into the cabin to confirm the presence of smoke in the cabin. The Captain decided to return to the airport. The thrust lever
Thrust lever
Thrust levers are found in the cockpit of aircraft, and are used by the pilot, copilot, or autopilot to control the power output of the aircraft's engines....

 for the number 2 engine (center engine) later became stuck as the fire burned through the operating cable, the engine was shut down on final approach.

The aircraft Captain declared an emergency and returned to Riyadh International Airport and landed safely. After touchdown, contrary to the captain's declaration of an emergency landing, the airplane continued to a taxiway at the end of the runway and exited the runway, stopping on the taxiway
A taxiway is a path on an airport connecting runways with ramps, hangars, terminals and other facilities. They mostly have hard surface such as asphalt or concrete, although smaller airports sometimes use gravel or grass....

 2 minutes 40 seconds after touchdown. The airport fire rescue equipment were stationed at the landing section of the runway expecting an emergency stop and evacuation. Why the captain did not immediately order an emergency evacuation of the aircraft is unknown. Because the fire rescue equipment was further down the runway it took extra time to arrive at the aircraft, which had used the entire length of a 4000 m runway to slow and exit onto a taxiway. The aircraft stopped on the taxiway facing the opposite direction from landing. On arrival at the aircraft the rescue personnel did not immediately attempt to open any of the aircraft doors as the engines on the wing were still running, the remaining 2 engines were shut down 3 minutes and 15 seconds after the aircraft came to a stop. There was no external fire visible at this time, but flames were observed through the windows at the rear of the aircraft. 23 minutes after engine shut down, the R2 door (second door on the right side) was opened by ground personnel, whereupon the aircraft burst into flames, and was consumed by fire. Autopsies were conducted on some of the non-Saudi nationals including the American flight engineer. All had perished from smoke inhalation and not burns which indicated that they had died long before the R2 door was opened.

One final transmission was received after the plane stopped, indicating that the emergency evacuation
Emergency evacuation
Emergency evacuation is the immediate and rapid movement of people away from the threat or actual occurrence of a hazard. Examples range from the small scale evacuation of a building due to a bomb threat or fire to the large scale evacuation of a district because of a flood, bombardment or...

 was about to begin. All of the victims were found in the forward half of the fuselage.

It took 23 minutes from the engine shutdown until the fuselage was accessed. Saudi reports stated that the crew could not get the plug-type doors to open in time. This later proved false as all doors had functional emergency opening devices. It is assumed that most passengers and flight attendants had become incapacitated during the landing roll or would not have attempted to open a door on a moving aircraft. It is known that the aircraft remained pressurized during the landing roll as the cabin pressurization system was on standby and the aircraft was found with both pressurization doors almost completely closed. These pressurization doors should have opened completely on touchdown to depressurize the aircraft. The crew were found still in their flight station seats. The source of the fire in the C3 is unknown.


The investigation revealed that the fire had started in the aft C3 Cargo compartment, the cause of the fire was never determined. The fire was intense enough to burn through the cabin floor, causing passengers seated in that area of the fire to move further forward in the cabin prior to the emergency landing.

Walter Muller, a former chief of the Policy Analysis Division of the Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S...

, filed a lawsuit against Lockheed, Saudia, and Trans World Airlines
Trans World Airlines
Trans World Airlines was an American airline that existed from 1925 until it was bought out by and merged with American Airlines in 2001. It was a major domestic airline in the United States and the main U.S.-based competitor of Pan American World Airways on intercontinental routes from 1946...

, an American airline that trained Saudi pilots and supervised the Saudi maintenance program. Muller's brother, Jack A. Muller, and his sister in law, Elizabeth S. Muller, died in the fire. Muller's suit stated that Lockheed allowed for "dangerous materials to be incorporated in the fuselage," that there was no vent system to distribute the gases away from the passengers, and that a sufficient oxygen system did not exist. Muller's suit accused Saudia of not properly maintaining the aircraft and providing safety for passengers and accused TWA of not properly maintaining the Saudia aircraft and not properly training crew.

After the event, the airline revised the emergency procedures and training. Lockheed
Lockheed Corporation
The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company. Lockheed was founded in 1912 and later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.-Origins:...

 also removed the insulation from above the rear cargo area, and added glass laminate structural reinforcement.

The National Transportation Safety Board
National Transportation Safety Board
The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. In this role, the NTSB investigates and reports on aviation accidents and incidents, certain types of highway crashes, ship and marine...

 recommended that aircraft use halomethane
Halomethane compounds are derivatives of methane with one or more of the hydrogen atoms replaced with halogen atoms . Halomethanes are both naturally occurring, especially in marine environments, and man-made, most notably as refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and fumigants...

 extinguishers instead of traditional hand-held fire extinguishers.

See also

  • Swissair Flight 111
    Swissair Flight 111
    Swissair Flight 111 was a Swissair McDonnell Douglas MD-11 on a scheduled airline flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, United States to Cointrin International Airport in Geneva, Switzerland...

  • Air Canada Flight 797
    Air Canada Flight 797
    Air Canada Flight 797 was a scheduled trans-border flight that flew on a Dallas/Fort Worth-Toronto-Montreal route. On , the aircraft developed an in-flight fire behind the washroom that spread between the outer skin and the inner decor panels, filling the plane with toxic smoke...

  • ValuJet Flight 592
    ValuJet Flight 592
    ValuJet Flight 592 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight between Miami International Airport, Miami, Florida, and William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia...

  • China Airlines Flight 120
    China Airlines Flight 120
    China Airlines Flight 120 was a regularly scheduled flight from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan County, Taiwan to Naha Airport in Okinawa, Japan. On August 20, 2007, the Boeing 737-800 aircraft operating the flight caught fire and exploded after landing and taxiing to the gate area...

  • Varig Flight 820
    Varig Flight 820
    Varig Flight 820 was a scheduled airline service from Galeão Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Orly Airport, Paris, France. On 11 July 1973, the Boeing 707 made an emergency landing in a field in the Orly commune due to smoke in the cabin...

  • South African Airways Flight 295
    South African Airways Flight 295
    South African Airways Flight 295 was a commercial flight that suffered a catastrophic in-flight fire in the cargo area and crashed into the Indian Ocean east of Mauritius on 28 November 1987, killing everyone on board...

  • List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners

External links

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