A VIRGIN Atlantic jumbo jet made a dramatic landing at Gatwick airport after developing a landing-gear fault.
Flight VS43, bound for Las Vegas, touched back down at the West Sussex airport yesterday afternoon after circling southern England for several hours to burn off fuel, making the plane light enough to land.
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Ambulances and fire-and-rescue crews had been on standby as the Boeing 747 jumbo, carrying 447 passengers, prepared to land, four and a half hours after it took off for the US in late morning.
Before the successful landing, Virgin announced that the plane would be carrying out a “non-standard landing procedure” at Gatwick airport. Arriving flights were diverted to other London airports.
Travellers, who had endured a nerve-wracking few hours circling above the south coast after the problem was identified, spoke of their relief as the pilot of Flight VS43 managed a “textbook” landing despite one of the plane’s five sets of landing gear not deploying.
Passengers, many heading for a New Year break in Las Vegas, adopted the brace position as the giant aircraft came into land.
There was spontaneous applause as the pilot pulled off the delicate landing without a hitch and the jet rolled safely to a stop.
Describing the mood on the plane, Dan Crane, 24, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, said it was “anxious, a lot were worried, some crying. The mood was quiet and [we were] just waiting for the captain’s next announcement”.
Mr Crane, who was with family and friends, said the crew had kept everyone informed, adding: “They said it was an emergency landing and we had to brace on impact.”
Mike Kaufman, speaking from his seat on the plane, said: “This was one of the greatest emergency landings in history. It was very smooth.”
He added: “We didn’t realise there would be such a fuss. It was such a calm experience. About half an hour out they said we would have to go back to Gatwick. They said it was a hydraulic problem. The fact everything went so well shows just how professional the flight crew were. We had a safety briefing two hours before we landed and when we were told we would have to go into the brace position for landings a sigh went around the plane.”
Mr Kaufman said: “Everybody gave the crew a big round of applause when we landed. I can’t wait to get into the terminal and have a gin and tonic now.We were talking about going on a rollercoaster ride in Las Vegas. Now I’m not so sure.”
Passenger Holly Jackson said the crew tried to “deliberately bounce” the plane to get the faulty landing gear back into position. She said: “They said this was a precautionary procedure, or something like that . But it didn’t work and we were told we would have to get into the brace position for a landing and it was then that everybody did start to get scared.”
A spokesman for British pilots organisation Balpa said: “Pilots train hard for exactly this kind of situation. It goes to show that well-trained pilots are vital.”
Dramatic photographs showed the jumbo jet landing with the right-side wing landing gear not deployed. A Gatwick airport spokesman said some passengers suffered minor injuries and the runway was closed until at least 6pm last night.
He said: “Virgin Atlantic flight VS043 has landed safely after returning to Gatwick due to a technical fault. Following the emergency landing, passengers have disembarked the aircraft via stairs. At this time, only minor injuries have been reported.
Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson said on Twitter: “Well done @VirginAtlantic pilots & team for safe & skillful landing of #VS43. Thoughts with passengers & crew, thanks for support & patience.”
Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Martin Walker said: “Our co-ordinated partnership response is part of a well-rehearsed emergency procedure.
“We are delighted that the plane has landed safely and we will continue to support the operation where we’re needed.”
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