LONDON (eTN) – A British Airways jet made an emergency landing short of the runway at London Heathrow. The Boeing 777 was making its approach on a flight from Beijing with 136 passengers and 16 crew members on board. All were evacuated safely though six people sustained minor injuries.
Eyewitnesses said the plane came down very low over the nearby M25 motorway smashed into the ground on its belly on grassland short of the runway. It skidded sideways and debris was thrown around as a wing became detached from the fuselage, but the passenger cabin stayed intact. The plane’s undercarriage, wings and engine were seriously damaged. A set of wheels came off as the plane hit the ground.
The emergency services were on the scene within minutes of the crash-landing. Firefighters hosed down the undercarriage with foam as a precaution but there was no sign of any fire.
British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said: “We are very proud of the way our crew safely evacuated all 136 passengers on board with only three minor injuries.”
All 136 passengers were taken to a reception center at the airport where they have been cared for by airport staff. Friends and family of those involved in the incident are also being cared for at the airport.
“The captain of the aircraft is one of our most experienced and has been flying with us for nearly 20 years. Our crew are trained to deal with these situations,” said Walsh.
“An investigation is being conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Branch so it would be inappropriate to speculate about the likely cause of this incident.
“I would also like to praise the fire, ambulance and police services”.
Heathrow’s southern runway was closed immediately after the incident for about two hours and the airport operated single runway operation during that time. The southern runway was eventually re-opened for departing aircraft with arriving aircraft landing on the northern runway.
BAA said it was doing everything possible to minimize disruption to passengers. Some incoming flights were diverted to other airports in southern England and there were delays of up to three hours in departures on Thursday afternoon. BA short haul flights were canceled for the rest of the day. Incoming flights were diverted to nearby airports – 11 to Gatwick, four to Luton and five to Stansted.
British Airways refused to speculate on the cause of the crash-landing or comment on reports in the media that the aircraft’s electronics had failed on approach to Heathrow. Officials from the Department for Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Branch were sent to the scene and an inquiry is under way.
The incident occurred at 12.40 on Thursday, just as Prime Minister Gordon Brown was about to leave Heathrow for a tour of China and India. His flight was delayed and government officials said he took off later in the afternoon.
The Boeing 777 airliner has a good safety record. None has ever been lost in a crash since it was launched in 1995.