THE captain and crew of a London-bound British Airways plane have been praised for their “textbook” response to an engine fire at a Las Vegas airport.
The left engine of the Boeing 777-200 burst into flames at McCarran International Airport, forcing 157 passengers, 10 crew and three pilots to evacuate through emergency slides.
Fire officials said at least 14 people were taken to hospital with minor injuries, mostly caused by them sliding down the inflatable chutes to escape.
The captain was named as Chris Henkey, from Reading, Berkshire, who has over four decades of flying experience with BA.
His ex-wife Marnie, who is a former cabin crew member and with whom he has a daughter, expressed her relief that he and the rest of the crew got out safely.
“He is safe and happy,” she said. “I’ve had some messages from him. He did a bloody good job.”
The airport released a statement which said it was first alerted to the emergency at 4:13pm local time (12:13am BST) and within five minutes everyone was off the plane and the blaze was extinguished.
An audio recording which appears to be the conversation between the captain and air traffic control shows how efficiently the emergency was dealt with.
Speaking calmly and clearly, the pilot said: “Mayday, mayday, Speedbird 2276 request fire services.”
The woman in the control tower immediately replied: “Heavy fire services on the way.”
Was asleep as the plane took off. Came to a crashing halt. Could smell and see smoke but was on other side of plane. One person said fire melted a couple of windowsJacob Steinberg
Forty seconds later the captain added: “We are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire. I repeat, we are evacuating.”
According to reports the captain was applauded by passengers when he spoke to them in the safety of the terminal building.
BA would not confirm the identity of the captain but said he was “very experienced and has flown with British Airways for 42 years”.
Aviation expert Julian Bray paid tribute to the way the passengers were guided to safety.
He said: “It was a textbook emergency evacuation under difficult conditions because that smoke was thick, black and acrid.”
The general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, Jim McAuslan, praised the “professional way the pilots and crew dealt with this emergency situation”.
He added: “Pilots take their personal responsibility for the safety and comfort of passengers extremely seriously and train relentlessly to deal with this kind of rare event.
“A pilot could go through their whole career without dealing with an incident like this, but if it happens all the training and time in the simulator pays off.”
A spokeswoman for the airport said: “We cannot express enough gratitude to the emergency response crews, as well as the British Airways crew.”
Airline safety has come a long way since the 1985 Manchester Airport disaster in which 55 people died when a Corfu-bound British Airtours Boeing 737 caught fire as it was speeding down the runway.
The incident led to many safety improvements, including making it easier for passengers to evacuate in the event of an incident.
British Airtours was the charter division of BA when the tragedy happened.