Passengers who escaped the British Airways jet that crash-landed at Heathrow on Thursday had hailed Captain Peter Burkill as the hero of the hour and called for him to be given "a medal as big as a frying pan". But yesterday, in the finest tradition of dashing, yet self-effacing, airline pilots, Captain Burkill pointed to the man standing next to him and revealed that it had been his co-pilot, Senior First Officer John Coward, who landed BA038 safely.
As preliminary investigations showed the aircraft's engines failed two miles from touchdown, the captain paid tribute to the "outstanding team" of air crew who evacuated the stricken airline in just 90 seconds.
Mr Burkill made his statement at an appearance with Mr Coward, the plane's cabin services director, Sharron Eaton-Mercer, and BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh at British Airways' headquarters at West Drayton, Middlesex. They were greeted with applause and cheers. Mr Burkill also praised the passengers and the airport services for the way they dealth with the emergency.
He was calm, understated and somewhat matter-of-fact as he described the extraordinary events of Thursday. "Flying is about teamwork and we had an outstanding team on board," he said. "I am proud to say that every member of my team played their part expertly. He praised First Officer Conor Magenis who "continually assisted" and Ms Eaton-Mercer, for getting the passengers off the aircraft. "I want to pay tribute to the cabin crew who carried out the evacuation with speed, efficiency and care. I want to thank the passengers, too, for their calmness and good sense in unfamiliar circumstances. I wish those who suffered injury a speedy recovery."
Mr Walsh praised the captain and crew for their "incredibly professionalism". The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whose flight to China took off shortly after the crash also saluted the "remarkable job" they had done.
Mr Burkill said he was unable to comment on the detailed circumstances surrounding the crash because of the ongoing investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch. But he revealed that he and his team had just 30 seconds to react when the plane, returning from Beijing, seemed to lose all power as it came in to land.
The plane narrowly cleared the airport's perimeter fence, avoiding nearby houses and a busy dual carriageway, before skidding to a halt on a patch of grass 150 metres short of the runway. All 136 passengers survived and only 18 were treated for minor injuries.
Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of the pilots union Balpa, said Captain Burkill and First Officer Coward had avoided the media after the crash, preferring instead to go for "a quiet curry". He added: "They do not wish or seek hero status and are embarrassed that their aircraft is all over the front pages."
Lengthy queues formed at Heathrow yesterday because dozens of flights – mainly those to short-haul destinations – were cancelled. Passengers swamped Terminal 1 with inquiries as BAA, the airport operator, announced that a total of 53 flights had had to be abandoned .
Holidaymakers were left frustrated despite assurances that timetables would soon return to normal. "I can only hope and try to be confident we will get off on time today because they said yesterday that we will be able to leave,- and we didn't," said Hege Vanoegee, 34, who arrived from Norway with her husband and three-year-old twins for a connecting flight.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch will talk to everyone on board the plane and the air traffic controllers as well as gather evidence from the aircraft's black box. Investigators will also study the plane's maintenance records in their attempt to discover the reasons for the accident.
One airport worker said that the captain had told him that the plane had lost all power after "all the electronics" failed as the plane came in to land. Passengers on board the plane said they only became aware of a problem just before the plane was due to land.
Jerome Ensinck said: "There was no indication that we were going to have a bad landing. When we hit the ground, it was extremely rough but I've had rough landings before and I thought 'This is the roughest I've had'.
"Then the emergency exits were opened and we were all told we should go through as quickly as possible and the moment I was away from the plane I started to realise that the undercarriage was away, and we had missed the runway.
"I feel lucky at the moment but I think now I realise I've had a close call. If we had hit the runway, it would have been worse."
Antonio De Crescenzo, 52, from Naples in Italy, said there was little warning that the plane was in difficulty. He said: "We were coming in to land but the plane felt like it should have been taking off. The engines were roaring and then we landed and it was just banging. It felt very sudden. Some people started to scream. It was quite terrifying although people seemed to be quite calm."
'Some debris hit my leg – I couldn't believe it'
By Gus Macmillan
We had come out of the low-hanging clouds, flown really low for about 45 seconds and we only just crossed the fence of the airport. But we had absolutely no indication that there was anything amiss until seconds before we crash-landed.
I had a window seat in row C, near the back of the plane, and out of the blue there was a hole punched in the fuselage of the plane through the side wall, something about the size of a coffee table. The impact, and some debris, hit my right leg. I couldn't believe it, I was stunned, but I only had about two seconds to be stunned because it was about that point that we actually hit the ground. It felt like a very heavy landing – but not a crash. The air was rushing in from the hole.
The plane then came to a stop really quickly. When you normally land you taxi for 45 seconds or so, but we taxied for four or five seconds, then we were at a standstill. Using the top of the seat as support I hobbled my way into the aisle.
At this point the cabin crew were on the job immediately, there was an announcement, the oxygen masks came down, and a lot of shouting. The inflatable ramps were deployed. A few of the passengers were trying to grab their hand luggage but they were yelled at to just get out.
There was no hysteria – just an understanding we had to get out. I had to jump on to the inflatable slide with a bit of trepidation, warning people I was injured – I didn't know how badly but suspected I had broken my leg. At the bottom of the slide the girl who sat across from me offered to help get me away from the plane.
I put my arm around her shoulder and she helped drag me across the grass, which was pretty wet and muddy. After 10 metres I got a hand from a French guy who was sitting in the seat behind me. They got me to an emergency vehicle 30ft from the plane.
At this point I was shaking like a leaf, I was nauseous, my mouth was dry and in pain. I was freezing cold because I left my jacket in the plane. They put me in the back of one of the emergency vehicles. And we looked back in disbelief – the plane was on its belly, on the grass, and 50 metres behind it was the undercarriage, with the wheels pointing towards the sky, and we realised how serious the incident had been.Reuse content