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The Tall Senior Captain

Copyright © Martyn Adams, 2008. All Rights Reserved.


British Airways Flight 9 was a scheduled flight from London Heathrow to Auckland.

On 24 June 1982, the Boeing 747 flew into a cloud of volcanic ash thrown up by the eruption of Mount Galunggung, approximately 180 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, Indonesia. This resulted in the failure of all four engines.


Her eyes wet obsidian, burned and sparkled

        As they laughed and joked over a quiet meal

Their passion to erupt,

        Lustful yet loving

He knew part of him was most of her life,

        And to him, all of her was more than his wife,

So proud he stood soaring, loving this part,

The Tall Senior Captain…

        Of her heart

Intimate memories with her warm in bed

        I’m kissing her lips and kissing her head

Why couldn't she stay? Her life, her loving, all now dead

Can you hear me now? I'll come to you instead

        But not on that elegant, murdering, purebred

Can we again be together?

        Are we not still wed?


From the cockpit ahead a volcanic cloud

        A billowing void, an invisible shroud

(Intimate memories with her warm in bed)

Then cold cutting words from the engineer

        "We have power loss - it's severe."


Disbelieving he smells the sulphurous fumes,

        Reading the panel, he must never presume

(He's kissing her lips and kissing her head)

Lights flicker, masks on; engine sounds, so, so wrong

        Keening warnings insistent for far too long


Rehearsed information, cold staccato in strict order

        Calm numbers for each other, reassurance... and recorder

(Why couldn't she stay? Her life, her loving, but all now dead)

More disbelief and foreheads frown

        Not one engine, but all four! "Keep our speed, point us… down."


Young smiling steward opens on the door

        "Can I get coffee for… ?"

(Can you hear me now? I'll come to you instead)

Then, comprehending, his smile fades to ash

        He can't see. He can't hear. They're going to ...?

"A little busy right now. Can you cope?"

        Sliding to the sea and losing hope

(Not on that elegant, murdering, purebred)

"Seat the passengers there's a good man."

        - unsaid: 'We're falling, they won't understand.'


Check the hydraulics, the power, check our fate

        How long will it be, how long to wait?

(But four hundred tons of plummeting lead)

Repeat it again - say all loud and clear

        The enquiry would know, they never showed fear




Engineer's disbelief, "Engine four's just restarted!"

        An ascending whine - a shock, yet relief

(Can we again be together? Are we not still wed?)

"Power is back" his face red and burning

        The engines revive, the plane, their hope, returning


The release, oh the joy, clawing back to the sky

        Now search for a haven to end this!

(Shall I? Shall I not? …We are still not together; yet still we are wed)

And no-one dare look into the widower's eyes

        As the Tall Senior Captain silently cries

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