British Airways Boeing 777 Incident at London Heathrow

British Airways flight BA 038 inbound to London Heathrow, from Beijing, China today at 12:42 pm local time (12:42 GMT) has crash landed just a few meters off the beginning of Heathrow’s Southern runway (unlucky?). From another point of view, it crash landed just a few meters off of a congested two way road, just inside the boundaries and fences of Heathrow Airport (lucky!!).

BA Boeing 777 after emergency landing at Heathrow - by

According to the first reports by BBC and declined to be commented by British Airways, the aircraft has lost some (or all) of its power and avionics systems while descending to the airport, and it equals to a miracle that the pilot managed to reach the territory of the airport by gliding this huge bird “nose up”, and not crash-land into the heavily populated residential areas of West-London. This is the FIRST Report, only a few hours after the crash, so as investigations will take place, the findings may change the descriptions of the cause.

All 136 passengers and 16 crew escaped the aircraft, with 13 of the passengers (among them 7 British and 3 Chinese) reportedly being treated in a nearby hospital with minor injuries.

Scotland Yard has quickly stated that the incident is not terrorism related.

BA chief Willie Walsh, while praising the crew for doing an “excellent job,” declined to comment on the possible cause of the accident, which is being to be probed by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). He further added that “The captain of the aircraft is one of our most experienced and has been flying with us for nearly 20 years,” he said.

What is known at this moment, is a few eyewitness explanations:

Eyewitness Neil Jones, who has a general aviation pilot’s licence, said the plane had been making a “very, very unusual approach,” and the engine sounded louder than normal. “The aircraft was banking to the left and it was coming in very low over the surrounding houses. The plane was significantly lower than it would normally be,” he told the BBC. “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. He did a great job,” said Jones. Another witness said the Boeing had come in at a “funny angle,” and, with its undercarriage down, had slid along the grass in a “plume of smoke.” The plane had hit the ground with a “big impact and a loud noise.”

The 6 year old Boeing 777-200ER, registration G-YMMM, was built by Boeing in 2001 and is one of 43 in the British Airways fleet. The plane is powered by two Rolls-Royce Group Plc Trent 895 engines and had accumulated 23,476 flying hours as of Dec. 31, 2006, (according to data on the Web site of the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority) and was immediately surrounded by emergency vehicles, including fire engines and ambulances, as a carpet of foam was sprayed. The wheels of the plane, which had a routine maintenance check in December, were still in the field where it crashed, several hundred meters from the runway.

Officials said delays were expected after one of Heathrow’s two runways was closed for almost two hours with an air exclusion zone imposed to help regulate traffic at one of the world’s busiest airports. The runway has since been reopened for take-offs only.

Update: first good resolution pictures on

Update: Video of the Crew’s Press Meeting on Telegraph TV, so you know who made sure that such an emergency situation was handled as best as possible: 

Update: In the preliminary report The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the flight had been normal until that point but then the Boeing 777 descended rapidly. The report states: “At approximately 600ft and two miles from touch down, the autothrottle demanded an increase in thrust from the two engines but the engines did not respond.” This means that so far the first theory has been confirmed by pre-liminary investigation findings. This was the first ever crash involving a Boeing 777 aircraft, which is considered as one of the most advanced jets in the sky today.

by balint01


25 Responses to “British Airways Boeing 777 Incident at London Heathrow”

  1. 2 Bill H. January 18, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    I find it absolutely amazing that the pilot of the BA 777 was able to set the plane down, relatively intact in such a short distance. It appears to be only about 1500 feet from the touch down point to where the plane came to rest. This pilot deserves a medal!

  2. 4 TimW January 22, 2008 at 6:31 am

    I just love the odd ball theories everyone and his dog have. All we have is the statement about the auto throttles. The auto throttles commanded an increase in power because the system detected decreasing thrust/airspeed. The engines did not respond because they were running down. There’s a lot of rubbish about a computer failure. The aircraft is a very complex machine which has very many backups and safety systems. Even with both engines inoperative, the a/c still has basic instrumentation, electrical power and hydraulics to operate some flying controls. The question which we must ask is why have the engines failed? The only possible answer is a lack of FUEL!
    Aircraft engineer

  3. 5 szafi January 22, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Hello Tim,
    what you are saying is quite shocking. I am happy that there is someone who can give us some professional background information.

  4. 6 Dan Gellert January 22, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Using aerospace system crash investigative methods: first would be consideration of fuel exhaustion; ether running out of fuel; or such an unusual attitude of the airliner so as to unable to feed the engines; or fuel contamination by high h2o content. If power failure did occur then autothrottles would disengage and manual throttle in put would be required. Unfortunately close to the ground if the aircraft speed was low and the airliner’s attitude was high, on the “back-side-of-the-power-curve” the airliner could not recover until the nose would be lowered. With house below this would be extremely difficult and would have to be done non-the-less before ground contact.
    What caused the power loss is a major question here. Hard to imagine a problem with an airliner that has been flying for 6 to 7 years, with a world wide fleet over 600 airliners flying for about 12 years. Especially an ETOPS airliner. Since I have not heard of a major reduction in B-777 ETOPS limits, I do not believe this is a softwear or aircraft electrical problem. Questions of continuous ignition on and if anti-ice was required also must be considered. Bird injestion normaly results in engine over temperature and some power normally is available, especially during descent as this has happened here. With information presently supplied, (1) power loss (2) electric failure (3) high engine noise, if these are in fact true, than I would consider dual engine failure from one of the sources described herein, probable power reecovery but since unable to lower the nose the airliner settled into the terrain. The captain should have taken control of the aircraft, and the copilot check ignition – read out air speed, andf if way low with a high angle of attack, the nose if able should have been lowered if aircraft’s power returned. With the limited information these comments are the most important to consider to evaluate the emergency situation. To me it appears to be an avoidable event – some how – some element of
    an indiced emergency developed that could have been perhaps avoided by pilot input. If not then by now there would be serious limitations placed on all B-777 flight opoerations in ETOPS!

  5. 7 Aerospace Safety & Security January 25, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Fuel screen problems are a thing of the past – or are they?
    Simultaneous power reductions are unique, in that, both
    fuel tanks or fuel routing must be compromising equally.
    Fuel screen freezings years ago caused lots of
    problems. Applying heat, or additives have for the most
    part eliviated these undesirable events. Additives to reduce
    or eliminate water [h2o] from jet fuel is avaliable, and
    additives to prevent freezing are also fairly common.
    Hard to imagine any other substance that would so drastically
    interfere with fuel flow, that is other than water or ice.

  6. 8 Terry January 26, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Shortage of fuel, this is the only explanation regarding that very reliable plane …
    Most of the plane crash end up with fire, why not this one ? Because nothing left to burn ….
    Fire team run to location and flood everything with foam precautionary but was nothing major … nothing even start …

  7. 9 Aerospace Safety & Security January 26, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    You raise a good issue Terry. But considerations
    of a post-crash-fire has to considere ‘containment’
    and ignition sources. First, did the fuel tanks rupture?
    Or was fuel leaking from the broken fuel lines connecting
    with the engines? Since the crew survived with out major
    injuries, there is a process to cut fuel and ignition-
    simply put secure the craft – major fuel shut off vaslve
    closed in the emngine pylon, ignition and all electric off!
    Just how hot were parts of the engine that could have come
    in contact with uncontained fuel? With out more applicable
    information I would not comment on the fuel or lack thereof.
    But I have the same question you have – waiting for an
    official response on that important topic. If there
    existed a major water contamination of the fuel tanks,
    fire would not have been a problem. Your point that fire
    brigades spred foam on arrival is interesting – since
    their training is just that – protect the scene – cover
    it all. I wonder who made the decision not to do just that?
    And why not?

  8. 10 Aerospace Safety & Security January 26, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Terry, as a more detailed response, consider the following.
    The on-site fire and rescue commander had to consider the
    time of his arrival and the probability of a fire-flash.
    During his roll – ATC would have provided the SOB’s
    [souls-on-board] and an-on-board fuel estimate. Also he would
    talk to the flight crew on arrival at the crash site.
    Since the 90 second evacuation window was past, and if all
    passengers and crew have exited the plane, he would place
    his trucks to control the site to extinguish any subsequent
    fire. One major concern for every fire department commander
    is the use of his foam assets. A future/subsequent emergency
    crash or fire may need his foam. My previous comment was if
    the crew would have told the fire and rescue folks that there
    was no more fuel on board. [Who made the decision and why?]
    The B-777 Flight Management Computer [FMC] gives the pilots
    a continuous up date of their fuel state – specifically the
    fuel remaining at the time of arrival at destination. No
    guess work on this. Hard to imagine that the crew would violate
    this fuel information, specificaaly if not declaring to ATC ‘Minimumt Fuel’ or an ‘Emergency’. Hauling extra fuel that
    is beyond requirements for the flight cost money. It is like
    hauling freight. But for every airliner there is a minimum which makes flying safe. Arriving B-777 with say 24,000 pounds of fuel
    is only 2,000 gallons in each main tank. Airliners are dispatched
    with fuel to destination, alternate airport and some additional
    fuel for expected holding and so forth. When below these minimums
    and short on fuel, a mandatory fuel stop is required. No Russian
    fuel-roulette should be tolerated. At this point, I have to think that the crew would not have violated such a serious fuel state under any imaginable circumstance for any reason!

  9. 11 Aerospace Safety & Security January 27, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Terry, there was a sufficiently proper amount of foam dispensed under the B-777. Interestingly, an inventive Split-Runway
    design – wherein the long Heathrow runways would be split in
    half for A-320 and B-737 type airliners, could have kept runway
    27L functioning. Simply put: the first half of the long runway
    is used for the landing of these types, and the other further
    half is used for takeoffs. In case of the accident during this
    B-777 emergency landing, the further half could have been
    used both for landing and takeoff for these smaller A-320 and
    B-737 type flying machines. Heathrow should think about this
    break-through inventive process, Heathrow is such an important
    airline hub, and this Split-Runway methodology would reduce the
    immediate need for the third Heathrow runway.

  10. 12 balint01 January 27, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Yes, according to the reports (I wasn’t there as an eyewitness so I must trust these sources) there was foam spread around the aircraft as we reported it in the 8th paragraph of our blogpost above here. If the pilots have shut down the fuel system before landing (they were gliding anyways, it would probably not make a big difference but would make the chances of survival much better – both at the airport or if they wouldn’t manage to get there on resiential areas as well…) they made the right decision according to my common-sense thinking. But maybe Boeing and/or BA manuals would suggest something else, I don’t know.
    Actually 2 hours after the incident they opened 27L runway for take-offs, probably leveraging the capabilities described in the last comment, so probably for single-aisle aircraft only however I haven’t read anything about such a limitation.

  11. 15 John January 29, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Since it had fuel.. my money is bad Chinese fuel.

    they will find the normal suppliers uncle had some old fuel available and was willing to sell at a lower price… yada yada yada…
    same story as Thomas the Tank engines lead paint.

    Morale… don’t fly from China, don’t suck on there toys, and don’t ever eat there shrimp

  12. 17 Aerospace Safety & Security January 31, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    John, many folks no doubt feel the same! For the crash investigators it is more complex. To document contaminated fuel, if a tank feeding an engine survived holding fuel, it is rather simple: on the scene even a specific gravity test can provide clues of contamination of the fuel,followed by lab-work.
    If all the fuel is lost, than a more complex investigation must be conducted. The first question will have to resolve, is the specific amount of fuel in the tanks feeding the engines. If low fuel state, than contamination problems are greatly increased. With low fuel it is most often that the tank bottoms are pumped out, which if contamination exists, this is where it lies, on the bottom.
    This may be the most likely probable cause of this event.
    Other questions facing the AAIB investigators as to contamination,
    trying to find just how much water or other contaminants may have accumulated in the tanks prior to refueling in China? Was this airliner fueled from the top of a tank [lots of fuel in the tank] or was this plane refueled from the bottom of the refueling tank, in otherwords, was the refueleing tank low on fuel?

  13. 18 John February 6, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    How much water can you mix with avgas or jet fuel and have it still burn well? It looks like the Chinese are adding water.

  14. 19 John February 6, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    So how much water can you add to jet fuel before the engines can’t function? It looks to me like the Chinese are adding water to “extend” the fuel, much like I added water to extend my Dad’s scotch back in high school (what… he still had 1/2 a bottle). They had the formula pretty good…until this plane encountered exceptional cold temps.

  15. 20 Captain Tom February 12, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Two Engines just don’t quit simultaneously unless they are out of fuel. Highly unlikely ; there was fuel but it didn’t get to the engines. How does that happen ? ICE , maybe , except Jet Fuel doesn’t freeze. The “Lots of water in the fuel ” theory has some merit. Apparently, the fuel does’nt freeze it “GELS” and might have caused the lack of power.

    The pilot is getting lots of praise and may deserve it BUT did he immediately disconnect Auto-pilot and Auto throttle. Most Jet engines have an “Emergency Throttle ” capability which bypasses lots of the ‘auto” stuff and dumps masive amounts of raw fuel into the engine. Even the “gelled”stuff would go through that system.

    Let’s hope there are lots of folks digging into the China refuel business.

  16. 21 balint01 February 25, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    ATW News, 20FEB2008:

    AAIB said examination of both the left and right high-pressure fuel pumps “revealed signs of abnormal cavitation on the pressure-side bearings and the outlet parts” that could indicate either a restriction of the fuel supply or “excessive aeration” of the fuel. It said Boeing confirmed that both pumps remained capable of delivering full flow. Flight data recorders revealed no other defects.

    The agency said it now is attempting to replicate the damage found in the fuel pumps and match it to data recorded during the flight. It also expressed concerns that the fuel supply was not cut off following the crash, which led to leakage that could have caught fire.

  17. 22 balint01 September 5, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Ice in fuel feed system likely reduced thrust on BA 777

    AAIB noted that “this is the first such event in 6.5 million flight hr.” and that the probability of such a scenario reoccurring is “remote.”

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