BA plane emergency probe under way
An investigation is under way into a dramatic incident in the skies over London as a smoke-trailing British Airways plane turned back to Heathrow airport with one engine on fire.
With emergency services standing by, the Airbus A319 landed safely and the 75 passengers and five crew were evacuated down emergency chutes.
The two pilots completed the landing after passengers described how "big flames" were seen coming from the right-hand engine as the Oslo-bound plane returned to Heathrow.
A picture taken from inside the plane also showed an engine cover on the left-hand engine had come loose, indicating that that engine, too, had been damaged - possibly by a birdstrike, which could also have affected the other engine. London Ambulance staff said it had treated three people for minor injuries.
TV pictures showed smoke billowing from one of the engines of the aircraft and then, later, passengers walking calmly away from the plane having come down the chutes. Both runways at Heathrow were shut for a time after the incident and although they re-opened later, BA cancelled all short-haul flights until 4pm - affecting the travel plans of thousands of people flying off for the bank holiday weekend and school half-term holidays.
One of the passengers, David Gallagher, explained what it had been like on board. He told BBC News: "About eight or nine minutes into the flight there was a loud popping sound, not an explosion but definitely not usual sounds... The captain came on very calmly, said he was aware of the situation and that everything was running normally and he was going to run some tests to see what the right course would be."
He went on: "Then another five minutes after that there was a loud sound, and this time the right engine was clearly on fire. I mean, big flames, very visible from the rest of the cabin and lots of black smoke. There was no disruption to the flight at all, even when it was clear we were down to one engine."
A BA statement said: "Flight BA762 departed Heathrow at 8.16am and returned to Heathrow at 8.43am due to an engine technical fault. The aircraft landed safely and cabin crew evacuated customers using emergency slides. Airline colleagues are now caring for customers in the airport terminal. There is likely to be disruption to other flights today into and out of Heathrow. Customers are advised to check ba.com for information about their flights before departing for the airport."
The airline has begun a full investigation into the incident and is working with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) to establish the cause. A full report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) could be some time away, but the branch could publish an interim report laying out the basic facts quite soon. The AAIB will take into account not only crew, passenger and eyewitness statements but also data from the flight recorder. Investigators will look into reports that part of the left-hand engine casing, which was shown to be off after the plane landed, actually detached on take-off.
One passenger told the online Daily Mail: "'As the plane started to gather speed on the runway for take-off, the engine casing came loose and started flapping and at the point of take-off it snapped off with a loud bang. On the descent back into Heathrow the right engine burst into flames, creating an orange glow visible throughout the cabin. People were relatively calm until the engine blew and then started to panic."