Saudia Flight 163: Wikis


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Saudia Flight 163

CG render of HZ-AHK
Accident summary
Date August 19, 1980
Type In-flight fire in cargo hold, pilot error
Site Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Passengers 287
Crew 14
Injuries 0
Fatalities 301 (all)
Aircraft type Lockheed L1011-200 TriStar
Operator Saudia
Tail number HZ-AHK
Flight origin Karachi Airport
Last stopover Riyadh International Airport (former)
Destination Jeddah International Airport (former)

Saudia Flight 163 was a scheduled passenger flight of Saudia that caught fire at Riyadh's International Airport (now the Riyadh Air Base) after a flight from Karachi, Pakistan. The fire, on August 19, 1980, killed all 287 passengers and 14 crew on board the Lockheed L-1011-200 TriStar, registered HZ-AHK, which had been due to fly on to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

At the time the incident was the second deadliest single aircraft disaster in history, after Turkish Airlines Flight 981.[1] 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.



Saudi officials said that most of the passengers consisted of Saudis and Pakistanis.[2] Many of the passengers consisted of Pakistani religious pilgrims.[3] Diplomats in Jeddah said that four Koreans, three Britons, two Thais, and one Irish person boarded the flight. The crew included six Filipinos, three Pakistanis, and one Briton. 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.[2]


Flight 163 took off at 18:08 GMT to complete its final leg. However, six 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 attempting to find the smoke alert procedures in the aircraft manuals. The captain decided to return to the airport. The thrust lever for the number 2 engine (center engine) became stuck as the fire burned through the operating cable, and the engine was shut down on final approach.

The aircraft returned to Riyadh International Airport and landed safely. After touchdown, the aeroplane continued to roll, and stopped on the taxiway 2 minutes 40 seconds after landing. The captain did not immediately order an emergency evacuation of the aircraft; rather the flight crew were instructed not to evacuate. The engines were not shut down for another 3 minutes and 15 seconds, preventing the rescue forces from reaching the aircraft.

One final transmission was received after the plane stopped, indicating that the emergency evacuation was about to begin. With a delay in evacuating the passengers, fire consumed the aircraft on the ground, killing everyone aboard. The fire rapidly progressed forward through the cabin. All of the victims were found in the forward half of the fuselage, but no doors were opened. The cause of the lack of coordination of emergency efforts is not known.

The rescue services were not familiar with the locations of the emergency exits of the aircraft. It took 23 minutes from the engine shutdown until the fuselage was accessed, by which time everybody aboard was dead from burns or smoke inhalation. Saudi reports stated that the crew could not get the plug-type doors to open in time.[4]


Walter Muller, a former chief of the Policy Analysis Division of the Federal Aviation Administration, filed a lawsuit against Lockheed, Saudia, and Trans World Airlines, 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.[5][6][4]

After the event, the airline revised the emergency procedures and training. Lockheed also removed the insulation from above the rear cargo area, and added glass laminate structural reinforcement.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that aircraft use halon extinguishers instead of traditional hand-held fire extinguishers.[7]

See also


  2. ^ a b "Mecca pilgrims among victims Gas stoves found in burned plane." The Globe and Mail. Thursday 29 August 1980.
  3. ^ Disaster in the Air, 67.
  4. ^ a b "Saudi Fire Negligence Suit Filed." Aviation Week & Space Technology. 27 October 1980. Air Transport Section Page 32.
  5. ^ "Family Suing in Saudi Airliner Fire; Crew Found Partly at Fault," The New York Times
  6. ^ Disaster in the Air, 68.
  7. ^ Disaster in the Air, 69.

External links



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