Saudi Arabia Flight 163: August 1980

6 June 2016

 19th of August, 1980. Saudi Arabia Flight 163, a Lockheed Tristar flight with 301 people aboard had experienced a cargo fire. The problem started when the crew was unable to find the correct evacuation procedures and start then. They began an emergency approach into Riyadh and were successful to make a landing. Poor communication and cockpit management did not lead to an effective evacuation call or to have fire trucks waiting for the flight and attack the fire. For several minutes the aircraft waited on the ground until the fire consumed the entire airplane, killing all 301 passengers and crew. (Aviation-Safety. Net)

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Flight SV 163 landed at Riyadh at around 16:06h GMT for a scheduled intermediate stop after a flight from Karachi. At 18:08hrs the aircraft took off for the final leg to Jeddah. Six minutes and 54 sec after take off while climbing visual and aural warnings indicated smoke in the aft cargo compartment C-3, a return to Riyadh was initiated. About two minutes later smoke was noted in the aft of the cabin, and passengers were panicking.

They let the aircraft roll down the runway for almost 3 minutes. The engines weren’t shut down for approximately another 3 minutes, preventing the rescue personnel from entering the aircraft. Additionally because of the unfamiliarity of the emergency exits, the rescue personnel required even more precious time to enter the aircraft. In all 23 minutes elapsed after landing before rescue crews could access the fuselage. But it was too late all 301 perished. (Baron, 2005)

One of the problems that were observed was the fact that cockpit crew didn’t complete their emergency drill promptly and effectively. The crew managed to fly the aircraft back safely to Riyadh and perform a normal landing but after they landed they failed to immediately stop the aircraft engines and begin the emergency evacuation drill that was the standard operating procedure and checklist to do. This could be possibly brought by poor task management. The last minute change of decision and approach procedure by the captain and the crew members is a crucial factor.

 Another deficiency observed was that the crew didn’t have the Riyadh fire rescue equipment spray down the aircraft on landing. They had contacted the fire rescue and the fire trucks to go to the back of the airplane as soon as possible. There is too much delay that the Riyadh fire rescue haven’t prepared the fire truck and fire rescue equipment spray  to stop the rapid effect of fire in the aircraft. They requested for fire trucks but due to lack of coordination and immediate response, fire equipment suffered from delay.

The captain didn’t have the flight attendants evacuate the aircraft, in spite of questions to that effect. The captain could have underestimated the threat or danger of their situation so he didn’t have the flight attendants evacuate the aircraft as early as possible. The captain’s situation awareness is limited that he didn’t make a sound decision at that point in time. This was one of the biggest mistakes of the captain, his neglect to have the flight attendants and other passengers to leave or evacuate the aircraft safely before it ignited.

What could be the caused of this monumental break down in leadership, communication and cockpit resource management? This is just one of the major questions asked on why this kind of accident happened. People all know that the leadership skill of the captain is very important. The captain or the pilot is the most failure prone system in all the staff involved. The captain failed to delegate the responsibility. Although the captain is the final authority as to the final decision there is still a need for equal input of decisions coming from all available people and resources. The First Officer unfortunately also has limited experience on the L1011 and lack of support from the captain has affected the situation.

This accident could have been possibly and highly prevented. Crew resource management is very important factor. Like in this case, the crew should have been trained properly to coordinate in times of emergencies. The accident could have been avoided or at least the impact and casualties lessened. There could be a safer and faster flight if crew members were better oriented and trained in emergency situation.


Baron R., (2005) “Crew Coordination/Decision Actions: Saudi Flight 163.”

Human Error vs. Airborne Terrorism. Retrieved October 9, 2008 from


 “Human Factors Still the Current Challenge of the Aviation Industry” (2008) CulturAiles: Human Factors in Air Safety. Retrieved September 20, 2008 from

“Saudi Arabia Flight 163: August 1980” (2008) Aviation-Safety.Net.

Retrieved October 1, 2008 from

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