Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010
British Airways pilot Peter Burkill tells his story

Peter Burkill
Peter Burkill was captain of the BA Boeing 777

Peter Burkill is a former British Airways (BA) pilot who saved 152 lives in a crash landing, when the engines failed.

Peter was captain of flight BA038, flying a Boeing 777 from Beijing to Heathrow in January 2008, and he managed to guide the plane to safety on the runway, and was labelled a hero at the time.

However, in the following months, rumours about the accident spread and Peter says his reputation was damaged.

The air crash investigation cleared him of any blame - as it found ice in the fuel system had caused the engines to fail - and he took voluntary redundancy from BA in August 2009.

Peter Burkhill told BBC Hereford & Worcester his story...

When we were still airborne, I was very busy in the 35 seconds I had - it felt like five minutes - very busy analysing the situation trying to find the best options to get the aircraft down safely.

Once I'd achieved that, and we impacted, I then found myself not being the captain anymore, and we were sliding along the ground.

That's when I thought about myself, and I thought yes, we might actually hit something at the front and it might be my time to go, so I said goodbye to my wife and my kids, and then we stopped.

Crashed Boeing 777
The British Airways Boeing 777 plane lies at the foot of the southern runway after its crash landing at Heathrow airport on 18 January 2008

That was a great moment, to know that the front of the aircraft was okay.

There was a feeling of relief, to know that we were still alive in the front and there were no serious injuries, but then of course I quickly became the Captain again and had to get on with saving the passengers lives, because I knew at that stage we could still go up in flames quite easily.

I didn't know the state of the aircraft - I thought it had broken into a number of pieces.

Actually, there was fuel spilling out of the wing, quite quickly, about six tonnes of it, so there was a very real chance of fire.

Being labelled a hero

I never counted myself as an hero I always think a hero is someone who goes in to help somebody and I was already sat in the aluminium tube.

I wasn't a hero, I just got on with my job and thankfully did it well.


I had a gagging order from my employer, and I wasn't allowed to speak to the press, although I wanted to - I wanted to tell them what happened.

The investigators said I could tell them quite a bit, but I wasn't able to because of my company, and that started to make me look a little bit guilty of not doing anything, because I couldn't speak.

Decided to leave the airline

In the first few months after the crash it was tough.

I went back to work after about a month - I was desperate to get back to work - and from that point I started hearing rumours from the cabin crew I was flying with.

They'd been told by their training school that I hadn't done a number of things in the flight - that I'd actually frozen and hadn't done anything in the flight deck, and I hadn't transmitted that May Day call, and that I hadn't done the evacuation call.

That really hurt me - on my first flight back - to be told these negative things about my profession, and that made me start thinking about how many crew were talking like this, and it just got worse and worse over the months.

Every time I went to work I was having to defend myself and my actions.

Boeing 777
The Boeing 777 crashed after engine failure as it approached Heathrow

It's not a pleasant feeling when you're in charge of an aircraft, to think that some of your cabin crew - even your flight crew members - might not have the full trust in you.

A day or two after the crash I could have flown a 777 to the moon I think, I had such confidence.

But that slowly got whittled away. and you start thinking the whole world doubts what you did, and it's not a pleasant feeling at all, especially when you can't defend yourself.

I finally left them [BA] in August 2009, having taken voluntary redundancy because of the promise of another job (with another airline company) but the job fizzled out, and they told me I was not going to be accepted for an interview.

All the 777 airlines that actively recruit for pilots, and are desperate for them, have not invited me for interview.

If I can't get another commercial flying job, that's life and I'll just find something else to do.

Now sees the world differently

I never thought people would think differently after they've had a near death experience, but having had one, I do look at life differently.

I try to be more positive about every day, but I also get a lot more emotional about seeing things happen to other people.

It just affects me slightly more; I don't break down in tears, but I get emotionally involved in each story I read.

It's almost like there's a connection, and I just see other people's point of view a lot more clearly than I probably ever did.

A book "Thirty Seconds to impact" has been written by Peter Burkill & Maria Burkill

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