'I am not a hero' says BA crash pilot Captain Peter Burkill

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The Independent Online

Had you had any scares as a pilot before the Heathrow crash, and if so, how did they compare? Did they help you prepare for it?

I’ve experienced an average amount of incidents as a pilot over my twenty years of commercial flying; and any experience is good experience.  Simulator training every 6 months puts pilots through their paces in emergency situations, and these details gave me the skills and confidence in my actions and the tools to use as a captain in difficult times when there are no checklists or previous experience to resort to using.  In this scenario, it was an unprecedented situation with very little time to react, and nobody had written the ‘rule book’ on how to deal with it.  I didn’t find this scary, but knew I had a job to get on with and not much time to make my decisions to save as many passenger lives as possible. 

I always believed that I would want to save my own life first in an emergency situation; and by doing so the passengers would be safe also.  However, when that time came, I found that I was only thinking of passenger safety and never thought about myself until the aircraft was in the ground slide and was uncontrollable from the pilot’s seat.  

Have you ever flown a plane since the crash? And do you intend to fly again?

I was back at BA full time from May 2008 operating a normal roster.  I chose to take voluntary redundancy when BA offered it in May 09 and left them, after 20 years in Aug 2009.  I have applied to various airlines for another position and hope that now the final report has been released that I will be invited to interview. 

What's your life been like since the crash? And how has it affected your family life? Has being thought of as a hero helped you through things, or does it bring with it added pressure? 

I have never thought of myself as a hero.  A hero is someone who voluntarily risks their life.  I do think that my skills as a pilot were tested on that day and that it fairer to say I am a confident and able pilot rather than a hero.

You said when you thought you were going to die, you "said goodbye" to your wife. Presumably this was just mentally - a thought process.

Yes it was a mental thought process.  I can remember saying in my mind goodbye to Maria and my boys.

Did you have any inclination to pray, or was it just a case of saying goodbye? 

There was not enough time to pray and I don't think I would have done anyway.  I recall expecting to hit something and the aircraft go up in a fireball.  I was also aware the landing was heavy and I did think the tail would have broken off, I still expected fatalities.