Pilot who ferried Thatcher has safety fears over damaged planes

JPCT 01-08-12 S12310429X Slinfold, retired pilot, Jack Allum, talking about career flying aeroplanes -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 01-08-12 S12310429X Slinfold, retired pilot, Jack Allum, talking about career flying aeroplanes -photo by Steve Cobb

A retired pilot with almost 40 years in the air has expressed concern that planes experiencing electrical failures may be mistaken for hijacked planes.

Jack Allum, 82, who lives in Slinfold’s Park Street, was at the helm of a passenger flight from Los Angeles to New York in 1979 when it was struck by lightning, rendering all electrical appliances in the cockpit useless.

He fears that planes suffering similar malfunctions, unable to communicate with ground control, may not be as lucky as him, as he landed his plane safely.

He said: “You have to keep a level head in those situations, because that was one of several.”

Mr Allum has been jotting down his experiences in a book he hopes to publish in the future, although he said he might have trouble condensing all he went through, as he has reached 1,000 pages already.

One of his most vivid experiences was as captain of a Laker Airways flight, carrying 350 passengers in a DC10 aircraft on January 31 1979.

Climbing after take-off a bolt of lightning, the biggest he has ever seen, hit the nose of the aircraft, temporarily blinding most of the cabin crew.

He was able to land without the help of any instruments in New York, and said they did not dare tell the crew what was happening.

The lightning flash left him with double vision, grounding him for 12 weeks.

He said: “When I was taking a wheelbarrow I came to the bridge and saw two in front of me and did not know which one to take.”

It was one of several scary incidents, including another where one of his engines went into reverse and he had just a heartbeat to shut it off before disaster struck.

He flew former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher across the Atlantic to meet US President Ronald Reagan twice, took Princess Margaret to Barbados, and gave lifts to the odd president and even a United Nations delegation.

He said of Mrs Thatcher: “Her husband Dennis would join us on the flight deck for a chat. He was one of the very few who I would call a perfect gentleman.”

He started his career flying spitfires in the RAF, turning down a research position at Cambridge aged 17. He moved to Slinfold in 1971, with his wife Nora, whom he met while stationed near Norwich for the RAF in 1951, marrying in 1953.

After several run-ins with senior officers, he moved posting, but still flew back during his time off to see Nora in East Anglia.