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Thursday, November 6, 1997 Published at 18:49 GMT


Hero pilots save 114 lives in Heathrow crash

Coming in on a wheel and a prayer

An airline crew who had to crash land a Virgin Airbus at Heathrow Airport are being hailed as heroes for saving the lives of all 114 people onboard.

The drama began when one of the jet's sets of wheels failed to open properly as flight VS024 from Los Angeles was coming in to land on Wednesday afternoon.

The pilot, Captain Tim Barnby, and co-pilots Andrew Morley and Craig Matheson managed to partly free the landing gear while circling above London.

[ image: This passenger said the crew did an amazing job]
This passenger said the crew did an amazing job
They then pumped it down further until it appeared to have locked. At 4.19pm the captain decided to go in for a landing on Heathrow's southern runway.

Captain Barnby said: "With the help of two co-pilots I managed to keep the aircraft upright. When we landed we skidded down the runway but we came to a stop and all the passengers were evacuated within one minute."

Fire crews sprayed the fuselage with foam as passengers used emergency chutes to get onto the tarmac. Nine of the 98 passengers and 16 crew needed hospital treatment for minor injuries sustained during the evacuation.

Passengers from the ill-fated flight had nothing but praise for the crew

Record producer Simon Franglen, 34, said: "It was smoother than some of the normal landings I have been in. The pilot did amazingly. You could feel the plane grinding against the runway. Some people said they could see sparks flying and one of the tyres bursting."

Also on board was Jake Chessum, 30, a freelance photographer, who said: "We first knew something was wrong when the plane went in to land and at about 100ft it pulled up. We swooped up and started circling and after a few minutes the pilot said there was a technical fault and they were trying to rectify it."

"They then came back over the Tannoy and said it was a problem with the undercarriage. He told us we were going to fly down so they could have a look from the ground." He said the pilot then told the passengers that the aircraft would have to make an emergency landing.

[ image: Flights at Heathrow were in chaos overnight]
Flights at Heathrow were in chaos overnight
Mr Chessum went on: "People kept their fears to themselves. It was very quiet and when we actually landed it was extremely quiet. It seemed like a normal landing and we hardly felt anything.There was a small round of applause from a few people."

Aviation experts and the British Airline Pilots Association are also praising the crew for their praise the cool handling of the situation. Virgin Atlantic said its pilot had done "a storming job".

However, a modest Captain Barnby said the procedure he followed was similar to an exercise which all Virgin pilots practised on flight simulators. "It was a case of just doing the job we are all trained for," he said.

The pilot, who was crowned British aerobatic champion earlier this year, said his stunt flying had not really helped bring the plane down. "All the people who train at Virgin would have done exactly what I did. They may have done it a bit better," he said.

An immediate investigation was launched into the cause of the emergency.

Passengers describe the crash-landing
Captain Tim Barnby

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