118 passengers were on board British Midland flight 92 when it departed London's Heathrow airport bound for Belfast on the evening on January 8, 1989. Captain Hunt and his First Officer, along with six other cabin crew members brought the total on board the 737 to 126. Flight 92 departed just before 8pm and was promptly cleared to FL350. Just after 8pm, while passing through FL280, there was a loud noise, the aircraft began to vibrate, and light smoke entered the cabin area through the air conditioning system. Passengers in the rear of the aircraft reported seeing flames coming from the port side engine. On the flight deck, though the crew could feel the vibrations and smell smoke, there were no aural or visual warnings.

Wreckage of 92

Captain Hunt disengaged the autopilot and took control of the aircraft. There were no anomalies in the engine indications, but believing that the air conditioning received bleed air from the right engine, Hunt believed the difficulty was coming from there. Hunt throttled back the right engine and both the vibrations and the smoke seemed to decrease. The First Officer called London ATC to report the emergency. Hunt initially ordered the engine be shut down, but before it could be done, Hunt decided that the engine seemed to be running satisfactorily and to keep it running. At this point, they were only minutes away from Castle Donington airport, which was British Midland's maintenance facility, so Hunt decided to divert there. Having made the decision to divert and being cleared for a descent, Hunt then advised the First Officer to proceed with the shutdown of the starboard engine.

The Captain then made an announcement on the PA that he had shut down the right engine and that they would be landing shortly. Apparently none of the passengers who saw flames from the left engine either heard the captain or felt that they were in position to say anything about it. The aircraft descended normally except for continued vibrations and the crew intercepted the localizer for runway 27 at Castle Donington at 2,000ft and began it's descent down the glideslope just four miles from the runway.

At 900ft and 2.5 miles from touchdown, the left engine completely lost power. The captain called for a relight on the right engine and several seconds later, the engine fire lights came on from the left engine. The Captain just had time to call for emergency brace over the PA before the aircraft impacted the ground at 110kts, just three-quarters of a mile from the runway. The aircraft bounced off the embankment, went across a motorway and into the other side of the embankment, fracturing the fuselage and flipping the tail section over. Thirty nine passengers were killed in the impact and eight others died later.

It's highly unlikely that both engines would fail concurrently, so investigators were very anxious to examine the wreckage for clues as to what caused a total loss of power on flight 92.

Both engines suffered extensive impact damage and a great deal of debris was lodged inside the forward sections. Interior inspection of the engines, however, revealed major differences between the condition of the two. The right engine showed only ground impact damage and it was clear that the engine was not running at the time of the crash.

Wreckage of 92

The left engine, however, showed severe fire damage and several blade fragments were missing, some recovered along the flight path as far away as a mile and a half from the crash site. It was clear that the left engine had been the one which had suffered mechanical difficulty during flight. So what then would cause the crew to shut down the good engine?
Recovery of the CVR and FDR showed that, during the initial period of vibration and smoke, there were large variations in N1 and EGT indications as well as low fuel flow. When asked which engine was causing trouble, the First Officer replied "It's the le...it's the right one." The FDR shows at this time that all right engine indications were normal. The FDR also showed that when the right throttle was closed, the left engine indications returned to near normal with the exception of the fuel flow, which was still erratic. Hunt attempted to discuss with the First Officer what indications had been received, but radio calls prevented them from further examining their situation.

Further study of the left engine showed that the fire had occurred after the crash. The initial cause of engine damage was the fatigue failure of one of the fan blades and further overload failure of the rest of the blades. It was clear then that the right engine was functional throughout the flight and the crew had somehow misidentified it.