Captain Tim Barnby, the pilot of the Virgin Atlantic flight VS024 from Los Angeles, said yesterday that it was "all in a day's work".
He brought the airbus, which was carrying 98 passengers and 16 crew, down using three, instead of four, sets of landing gear after it developed undercarriage problems nearing Heathrow airport. Nine passengers and crew were treated afterwards for minor injuries.
Virgin Atlantic said that Captain Barnby, who was last night being debriefed by police and air accident investigators, made a "textbook landing".
Describing what happened, Captain Barnby, said he had noticed trouble on the way into the airport.
"The left main landing gear was not extending properly. I did all I could to force it down but it didn't work. I was trying to shake the undercarriage using positive G-force to try and get it down."
He brought the aircraft in low over the airport so that officials on the ground could take a close look at the problem and was told the landing gear was definitely stuck.
Captain Barnby was forced to burn off fuel for 40 minutes before attempting an emergency landing.
"With the help of two co- pilots I managed to keep the aircraft upright," he said.
"When we landed we skidded down the runway, but we came to a stop and all the passengers were evacuated within one minute.
"I don't think what I did was heroic, it was all in a day's work."
Captain Barnby, a former military pilot and ex-acrobatic champion, was said to have remained "cool, calm and collected".
A spokesman for Virgin said last night: "He has been chatting with passengers and making sure they are all OK. What he did was fantastic flying. He did everything by the book."
Pilots and aviation experts praised the crew for their skill, although they pointed out that pilots are trained to handle just this kind of emergency.
"It would have tested the pilot's professionalism to the utmost," said Chris Darke, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association.
"He would have had to have used the height of his professionalism and experience to land the aeroplane.
"It would have been difficult to perform but the crew followed their training to the letter. It would have been a team effort."
Virgin said its A340-300 fleet would have their landing gear inspected before any further flights, but in fact the A340 has an excellent safety record. There have been no crashes, although one A340 was destroyed in a fire during maintenance in Paris. The aircraft is nearly 200ft long, has a wingspan of 197.8ft and is 55ft high.
Disruption to flights is expected at Heathrow today as the aircraft was still on the runway last night and the area will have to be cleared of all debris.
How the pilot saved flight vs 04
passengers and 16 crew, Virgin Atlantic flight VS 04, Los Angeles to Heathrow, makes a
normal approach to Heathrow.
Crew report a fault in the left
Flight VS 04 makes a fly-past of Heathrow so that ground staff can make a visual examination. This
confirms that the left
undercarriage is not fully extended.
At 16.19pm, the Virgin Atlantic Airbus 340 touches down on Heathrow's southern runway.
Pilot keeps the plane balanced on its
remaining landing gear for as long as possible before the jet tips over.
Eyewitnesses report seeing sparks as the plane slews down the runway.
Flight VS 04 slides to a halt at the end of the runway.
Emergency vehicles spread a blanket of foam on the runway
All passengers evacuated one minute after plane comes to
a halt. Six injured were taken to Ashford Hospital.
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