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Heathrow jet crash lands short of runway

CNN.com
Jan 18, 2008 at 10:19am IST

London: Witnesses have described how the pilot of a British Airways passenger jet that crash landed at London's Heathrow Airport on Thursday appeared to be struggling to bring the plane down safely as it came in low over surrounding houses.

17 people suffered minor injuries when flight BA038 from Beijing skidded to a halt on grass, damaging its undercarriage and wings.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the short landing of a British Airways aircraft at London's Heathrow Airport on Thursday.

MAJOR CRASH: Rescue crews stand around a British Airways aircraft.

Images showed the Boeing 777 -- BA flight 38 -- grounded on tarmac after touching down several hundred meters short of the airport's south runway, close to a perimeter road, with its emergency chutes deployed.

The undercarriage, left wing and left engine of the aircraft appeared severely damaged, as if it had skidded across the ground. At least one of the plane's wheels had been torn off.

Eyewitness Neil Jones said the plane had made a "very, very unusual approach" to the airport and sounded louder than usual, the UK's Press Association reported.

"The aircraft was banking to the left and it was coming in very low over the surrounding houses," Jones said.

"The plane was significantly lower than it would normally be. I could see the undercarriage was down and the wing flaps were down. I don't know how many engines were working.

"You could see the pilot was desperate, trying to get the plane down. The aircraft hit the grass and there was a lot of dirt. The pilot was struggling to keep the plane straight. I think he did a great job."

Tire tracks hundreds of meters long could be seen in the grass behind the plane, which was surrounded by fire engines and other emergency vehicles and had been doused in fire-fighting foam.

A spokesman for Heathrow -- the world's busiest airport -- said the flight had carried out an emergency landing at 1242 pm GMT.

In a statement, British Airways said all 136 passengers had been evacuated from the plane with three minor injuries.

Airport authorities said Heathrow's southern runway had been closed, but the northern runway remained open. But the incident immediately led to major delays for passengers.

A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police said there was nothing to suggest the incident was terror-related.

The Boeing 777 is the mainstay of many airlines' long-haul fleets and has never been involved in a fatal accident. However, the aircraft involved in Thursday's incident appeared to have had a fortunate escape, having flown over heavily-populated west London suburbs before its crash landing.

"This is the closest we've come to a major catastrophe," CNN's Richard Quest said.

The incident occurred as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was due to leave Heathrow for a visit to China and India. His flight was delayed but his jet was not directly involved, PA said.

All British Airways short-haul flights from Heathrow have been cancelled and others delayed. Heathrow authorities say operations will return to normal by late Friday.

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