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151 escape death as passenger plane crash-lands at Heathrow

A PASSENGER plane which crash-landed short of the runway at Heathrow Airport was forced to glide in after it lost power, it was claimed last night.

A PASSENGER plane which crash-landed short of the runway at Heathrow Airport was forced to glide in after it lost power, it was claimed last night.

Tens of thousands of passengers suffered travel chaos after the British Airways jet, with 151 people on board, hit the grass just inside a perimeter fence and skidded hundreds of feet before coming to a halt near the start of the runway.

A total of 13 "very minor" injuries were reported among the 135 passengers and 16 crew. Several suffered whiplash.

The wheels and undercarriage of the twin-aisle jet, which was little more than half full, were ripped off in the crash landing as it approached the airport after a flight from Beijing, China.

Last night, an unnamed airport worker was reported as saying the pilot of the seven-year-old Boeing 777 told him he had lost all power on the plane as it came in to land.

He said: "He told me that the aircraft shut down and he lost all his power and avionics. He just glided it in and lifted the nose up and managed to get it down. He lost power very close to coming in to land. He said he had no warning – it just went.

"It's a miracle. The man deserves a medal as big as a frying pan. He has done a fantastic job."

And Jeff Jupp, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "It certainly looks consistent with a total power failure on the approach – except for emergency power for flight controls.

"The reason for the power loss is a mystery at this stage."

Eyewitnesses spoke of seeing the plane coming in very low and banking heavily.

One passenger said the plane had come in at a "funny angle" and "belly-flopped" on to the grass. Another, Antonio De Crescenzo, 52, from Italy, said: "We were coming in to land but the plane felt like it should have been taking off. The engines were roaring and then we landed and it was just banging. Some people started to scream.

"It was quite terrifying, although people seemed to be quite calm. I think people were quite surprised when they were told to evacuate down the chutes."

For more than an hour, the crash closed one of Heathrow's two runways, which is used for landings, but the other runway, used for take-offs, remained open. However, National Air Traffic Services nearly halved landings on the runway adjacent to the crashed aircraft because part of it remained shut.

Willie Walsh, BA's chief executive, said: "Our flight and cabin crew did a magnificent job and safely evacuated all the passengers. The captain is one of our most experienced and has been flying with us for nearly 20 years."

Some 100 Heathrow flights were cancelled, including almost all of BA's services to and from Scotland. About 20 Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen flights were grounded.

A BA spokesman warned that the disruption would continue today because aircraft and crew would be out of position, and restrictions may continue at Heathrow.

Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, last night criticised BA's decision to cancel so many Scottish flights.

She said: "We seem to be permanently the first victim when restrictions are imposed, but it would have been in BA's interests to work hard to keep customer loyalty."

BA would say only that the cancellations were for "operational reasons".

A plane carrying Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, on a visit to China was among the aircraft delayed.

'IMPECCABLE' SAFETY RECORD

THE Boeing 777 is an extremely reliable aircraft with an almost impeccable safety record, according to aviation experts.

Kieran Daly, of Flight International magazine, said no Boeing 777 aircraft had been lost in a crash since it was launched in 1995.

The plane involved in yesterday's incident is powered by two Rolls Royce engines but should still fly if one failed.

A large proportion of the British Airways fleet is made up of 777s and there are 667 in service around the world.

There are orders for 300 more on planemaker Boeing's books.

Mr Daly said: "The 777 is an extremely reliable aircraft. There have been no 777 losses to date, which is a fairly impressive record considering how long it has been in service.

"The 777 is pretty much state-of-the-art, even though it has been around for quite a long time.

"We're talking about one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, operated by one of the most safety-conscious airlines in the world, flying in to one of the safest airports in the world. It's quite a surprise."

 
 
 

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