JeddahPakistanSaudi Arabia

What happened to the passengers and crew of Saudia Flight 163? 

Date:August 19, 1980
Location:Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Aircraft:Lockheed 1011-200 TriStar
Airline:Saudi Arabian Airlines
Flight No:163
Fatalities:301 : 301

Saudia Flight 163

40 years ago, in 1980, on August 19, Saudia Flight 163 departed Karachi Airport in Pakistan at 18:32 (Pak time), a time-bound for Jeddah International Airport in Saudi Arabia, with a scheduled intermediate stop at Riyadh International Airport.


82 passengers boarded in Karachi while the remaining 205 passengers boarded in Riyadh. The majority of the passengers were Saudis and Pakistani religious pilgrims on their way to Makkah. In addition to the Saudis and Pakistanis, there were 32 religious pilgrims from Iran. There were also a small number of passengers from various countries, who were heading to Jeddah for diplomatic missions.

Saudia TriStar
Similar Flight Displayed in Riyadh

The flight arrived in Riyadh at 19:06 (Saudi time). There was a two-hour layover for refueling. During the layover, several of the passengers disembarked. After refueling, the flight took off at 21:08 bound for Jeddah. Almost seven minutes into the flight, the crew received warnings of smoke coming from the cargo compartment.

The next four minutes were spent by the crew trying to confirm the warnings, after which Flight Engineer Bradley Curtis went back into the cabin to confirm the presence of smoke.

Captain Mohammed Ali Khowyter decided to return to the airport, and First Officer Sami Abdullah M. Hasanain radioed their intentions in 21:20. In 21:25, the thrust lever for the number two engine (the center engine) became jammed as the fire burned through the operating cable. Then, at 21:29, the engine was shut down during its final approach.

Saudia Flight 163 Disaster

In 21:35, Captain Khowyter declared an emergency and landed back in Riyadh. After a touchdown at 21:36, the plane continued to a taxiway at the end of the runway where it exited the runway, stopping two minutes and 40 seconds after a touchdown at 21:39. Airport fire rescue equipment was stationed back on the landing section of the runway, with emergency personnel expecting an emergency stop and evacuation. This meant they had to rush after the aircraft, which had used the entire length of a 13,000 feet (4,000 m) runway to slow and then exit onto the taxiway. The airplane stopped facing in the opposite direction from landing.

Saudia 163 Accident

Once the aircraft had stopped, the crew reported that they were shutting down the engines and about to evacuate. However, on arrival at the aircraft soon after, the rescue personnel found that the two wing-mounted engines were still running, preventing them from opening the doors. They were finally shut down at 21:42, three minutes and 15 seconds after the aircraft came to a stop, at which point communication with the crew was lost. No external fire was visible at the time, but flames were observed through the windows at the rear of the aircraft. Twenty-three minutes after the engine shut down, at 22:05, the R2 door (second door on the right side) was opened by ground personnel. Three minutes later, the aircraft burst into flames and was consumed by fire.


It is not known why Captain Khowyter failed to evacuate the aircraft promptly. Saudi reports stated that the crew could not get the plug-type doors to open in time. It is assumed that most passengers and flight attendants were incapacitated during the landing roll, or they would not have attempted to open a door on a moving aircraft.

It is known that the aircraft remained pressurized during the landing roll as the cabin pressurization system was on standby, and the aircraft was found with both pressurization hatches almost completely closed. The pressurization hatches should have opened completely on the touchdown to depressurize the aircraft.

Saudia Flight 163

The crew was found still in their seats, and all the victims were found in the forward half of the fuselage. Autopsies were conducted on some of the non-Saudi nationals, including the American flight engineer. All of them perished from smoke inhalation and no burns, which indicated that they had died long before the R2 door was opened. The source of the fire in compartment C3 could not be determined.

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