British Airways has paid tribute to a flight attendant who died trying to rescue passengers, including a disabled customer, when her plane was engulfed in flames. Barbara Jane Harrison, who worked for BA’s predecessor airline BOAC, was just 22 years old when she died in the tragedy back in 1968.
Barbara was one of the stewardesses (as they were known back then) on BOAC flight 712 bound for Sydney from Heathrow Airport on 8th April 1968. Onboard the Boeing 707 were 127 passengers, bound initially for Zurich – a short hop to refuel before continuing on its journey to Australia.
But this routine flight went horribly wrong immediately after take off. There was a large bang from one of the engines on the left hand side and both it and the wing were engulfed in flames. The flight engineer went to pull the fuel shut off handle but he didn’t complete his task.
Instead, fuel continued flowing to the badly damaged engine. The fire got worse and the heat so ferocious that the windows close to the wing started to melt. The flight crew declared an emergency and made an immediate return to Heathrow. As they approached the airport, the damaged engine fell 3,000 foot to the ground.
Just four minutes after takeoff and the plane was already back on the ground at Heathrow. It was reported that the cabin crew began the evacuation before the plane had even come to a full stop. Most of those onboard managed to get out despite erupting fuel lines causing explosions that set fire to the passenger cabin.
Barbara was the last flight attendant to leave the plane before deciding to turn back in an attempt to rescue four trapped passengers – including an eight year old girl and a disabled passenger. Tragically, smoke and fire made their escape impossible and they all perished in the inferno.
“All of us at British Airways are indebted to Barbara Jane Harrison. Barbara’s selfless actions more than 50 years ago were an incredible act of heroism,” said BA’s current chief executive, Alex Cruz at an unveiling ceremony of a blue plaque that celebrates Barbara’s memory.
The blue plaque will be installed on her former home in Bradford as a permanent and enduring mark of respect.
Captain John Hutchinson and Captain Robert Sample, two of the pilots on the BOAC flight at the time, also attended the ceremony at Bradford City Hall to pay their respects to their former colleague.
Barbara is one of only four women to be awarded the George Cross for heroism and the only woman to have received the award during peacetime.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.