Virgin pilot praised for landing a faulty jumbo jet on three wheels

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The Independent Online

An airline pilot and former aerobatics champion was praised by air accident investigators yesterday for his part in landing a faulty jumbo jet in heavy crosswinds.

An airline pilot and former aerobatics champion was praised by air accident investigators yesterday for his part in landing a faulty jumbo jet in heavy crosswinds.

Only three of the aircraft's four sets of wheels came down on the wet late afternoon of 5 November 1997 when Captain Tim Barnby, now 42, managed to land his stricken Virgin Atlantic jet, with 114 passengers and crew on board, at Heathrow.

The Airbus A340 approached the foam-covered runway in failing light after a series of moves to try to free the trapped wheels on flight VS024 from Los Angeles. Captain Barnby used the three remaining sets of wheels to keep the plane level until it began to slew across the runway with smoke and sparks spraying up when part of the number four engine on the right side scraped the runway.

The aircraft banked to the right and there was a brief fire as the aircraft slowed down. All four tyres on the right-hand landing gear burst and two wheels broke up.

Yesterday's Air Accidents Investigation Branch report said Captain Barnby and his crew had showed "commendable judgement and conducted a skilful landing" but criticised the plane's manufacturer, Airbus, for providing a Quick Reference Handbook that "did not afford flight crews the best information available prior to carrying out such an emergency landing".

The report found that the wheels had failed to descend because a torque pin rod, later found at Los Angeles airport, had come out, jamming part of the undercarriage.

A red light came on in the cockpit alerting the crew just under an hour before they were due to land. After passing the airport at 250ft for air control staff to inspect the problem, the plane made a brief touchdown in an attempt to free the wheels before climbing to try a series of sharp twists and turns that again failed to free the trapped undercarriage. With fuel running low the decision was made to land the plane with emergency services in "effective attendance", the report said.

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