British pilot of crash-landing jet hailed as 'hero'

Updated: 2008-01-18 20:14

London  - The pilot of a British Airways jet that crash landed at London's Heathrow airport with more than 150 people on board was hailed as a hero Friday as investigators began their probe into the incident.

A video grab image shows a British Airways plane that made an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport, in London January 17, 2008. A British Airways plane on a flight from China made an emergency landing at London's Heathrow Airport on Thursday, officials said. [Agencies]
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All 136 passengers and 16 crew on the Boeing 777 from Beijing escaped without serious injury when the aircraft was forced to land short of the runway Thursday after apparently losing power during its final approach.

"Give him a medal as big as a frying pan," was the Daily Mirror tabloid's headline verdict on pilot Captain Peter Burkill's efforts in guiding the striken jet to safety.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose party was at Heathrow and witnessed the aftermath of the crash ahead of an official visit to China, was also effusive in his praise.

"I think it is 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," Brown said after arriving in Beijing.

"It's at times like these you remember you are in the hands of staff who do a remarkable job," he added.

A total of 18 people received treatment for minor injuries following the crash at 12:42 pm.

Air accident investigators were expected to make an initial report Saturday, with some experts suggesting the crash could be linked to a bird strike or even the plane running out of fuel.

Heathrow struggled with cancellations and delays in the aftermath of the incident and airport operators BAA said 12 flights had already been cancelled Friday.

British Airways shorthaul flights have been particularly hit.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said an initial report would be available within 48 hours, but Chief Inspector of Air Accidents David King warned that it could take more than a month for the full report to be produced.

All those on board the plane from Beijing will be questioned by the AAIB, and the airliner's "black box" and cockpit voice recorders will also be checked.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh, who said he was "very proud" of the crew's actions, said the airline would cooperate fully with the probe, adding that the aircraft in question was six years old.

Brown's flight was delayed briefly by the crash landing, which left the undercarriage of the plane wrecked, with the back end and the engines touching the ground.

Television pictures showed skidmarks carving up the grass ahead of the runway used by flight BA38.

Passengers poured out of the emergency slides while firefighters sprayed safety foam around the jet.

One passenger, Fernando Prado, told BBC television by telephone that all the passengers had been evacuated within two or three minutes, adding of his escape: "I won the lottery today."

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