The pilot of a Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick to Las Vegas has been applauded for his actions when the aircraft he was flying experienced serious technical faults in the landing gear.
The Boeing 747 was packed with more than 450 passengers and crew, including the pilot’s own daughter, when it had to undertake dramatic manoeuvres over the South West of England to try enable the plane to land safely, according to The Telegraph.
Flight VS43 was forced to make an emergency landing back at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex at around 1545hrs with those on board forced to adopt the ‘brace’ position.
Amazingly, despite photographs showing the stricken craft listing heavily to one side, propped up by a wing, only minor injuries were reported.
Although the pilot was not officially named, having chosen to remain anonymous according to a spokesman from the airline, a passenger tweeted:
“Dave the pilot and crew where amazing. I had the privilege of sitting next to his daughter such a little gem.”
The aircraft took off from Gatwick at 1144hrs before turning back shortly after crossing the North Devon coast. It circled above the Bristol Channel before heading back towards the airport and remaining in a holding position at low altitude.
Passengers described the numerous attempts the pilot took to try to fix the fault with the aircraft’s landing gear after one of the five, on the right hand side, malfunctioned.
According to Alex Starkie, 25, who was on board, the pilot took the aircraft to 10000ft then dropped sharply in a bid to dislodge the trapped wheel.
“The pilot said there were guys with binoculars looking at the bottom of the plane, and then he started manoeuvres, going up and down to try and jolt it,” he said. “It was like a roller-coaster, going up to 10,000 feet and down to try to dislodge it. Obviously people were screaming a bit and getting upset.”
One person on board flight VS43 recorded the moment just before the aircraft made an emergency landing at Gatwick where a member of cabin crew can be heard telling passengers they will not need their life jackets.
“When you hear the command ‘brace, brace’ you will adopt the position shown on your safety card” he says.
Passengers are then told to listen for an evacuation command from the Captain once the plane has landed. This took place some 60 minutes after the pilot had made his brave and controlled landing.
The emergency landing was described as “textbook” by one passenger, Mike Kaufman. “This was one of the greatest emergency landings in history. It was very smooth.”
But some passengers remained calm in the face of a potential crisis, with Ben Coleman from Essex saying, “It was quite relaxed, to be honest”.
After about 50 flights were delayed or cancelled and several rerouted to other airports to ensure all focus could be on the safe landing of the 747, the airport reopened just after1900hrs.
Sir Richard, the Virgin president, said on Twitter:
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) December 29, 2014
In a statement, Gatwick said: “The airport is now facilitating inbound and outbound flights but it will take some time for normal service to resume… We are working with our airline partners to provide food, drink and welfare facilities for those passengers whose flights may either have been delayed or cancelled.”
The airline’s chief executive promised that passengers involved would be upset and caused significant disruption to any holiday plans.
“We will make sure they are well looked after this evening, and will be operating a special flight for everyone who would like to continue their journey,” he said, although some passengers had already rejected the chance to travel again.
These include newlyweds Sarah and David Gillespie from Belfast who were departing for their honeymoon.
“I just thought, ‘I’m not sure we are going to get out of this alive’,” said Sarah, 27. “We got married last week and this was our honeymoon -spent at the Hilton at the airport. I was terrified and I’m a bit dubious about the flight tomorrow.”
Captain Brendan O’Neal, chairman of the British Airline Pilots Association, said that such incidents were “rare” but reassured passengers that “These pilots have had to put into practise their years of training and experience to keep their aircraft and passengers safe today.”