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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 15:09 GMT
Experts probe Heathrow air crash
Investigators have retrieved the flight data recorder for clues

Investigators are trying to find out why a British Airways plane - carrying more than 150 people - crash-landed at London's Heathrow airport.

Captain Peter Burkill was praised for his professionalism after all 136 passengers and 16 crew survived the landing on the south runway.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has spoken to the pilot and crew and will make a report on Saturday.

Two large cranes have been moved into position around the aircraft.

It is believed the cranes will be used to raise the aircraft so investigators can look at the underside of the airliner.

Wings damaged

Investigators are also examining the "black box" flight data recorder from the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft.

British Airways (BA) said it was planning to operate all its long-haul departures from Heathrow today and up to 90% of its short-haul departures.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's own flight to China was delayed as the Boeing skidded across the grass short of the runway and pulled up about 1,000 metres from his plane.

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Mr Brown, who is on an official visit to Beijing, praised the 43-year-old pilot's "professionalism" in managing to avert a major disaster.

He said: "I think it's right to pay tribute to the calmness and professionalism of the British Airways staff and the captain and what he achieved in landing the aircraft.

"The speed of the evacuation we saw at first-hand, and the total professionalism and dedication of the staff."

The AAIB will check flight data and cockpit voice recorders at its headquarters in Farnborough, delivering a further preliminary report within 30 days.

Captain Patrick Burkill
Captain Peter Burkill will be given as much time off as he needs said BA

More than 200 flights had to be cancelled or diverted to other airports following the accident at lunchtime on Thursday.

Witnesses described the plane coming in very low and landing short of the runway, before skidding across grass and tarmac.

Part of the undercarriage, including two wheels, was torn off and there was some damage to the wings.

Eighteen people needed treatment for minor injuries, including whiplash. By Thursday night, all but one female passenger had been discharged.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh also paid tribute to the air crew, describing them as "heroes".

It was quite terrifying although people seemed to be quite calm
Antonio De Crescenzo, passenger

Mr Burkill, an "experienced pilot", has been with the airline for nearly 20 years.

So far neither British Airways nor the authorities at Heathrow will speculate about the cause of the accident.

An unnamed airport worker told the BBC the captain had told him he lost all power after "all the electronics" failed while the plane came in to land.

Passengers 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'."

Antonio De Crescenzo, 52, from Naples in Italy, said there was little warning that the plane was in difficulty.

'Quite terrifying'

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."

The Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, David King, warned it could take some time to discover the cause of the crash, but he would act immediately if investigations reveal safety concerns.

Theories about the cause of the crash include:

  • Mechanical or electronic failure
  • Birds flying into engines
  • Sudden wind change
  • Pilot error

So far BA are not grounding any of the 43 Boeing 777 planes in its fleet.

The aircraft is generally thought by experts to be extremely reliable, with no serious accidents reported since it was introduced in 1996.

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