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BA Passengers Warned Plane Could Topple Over On Runway After Landing Gear Failure | Telegraph


Terrified British Airways passengers were ordered not to “rock the plane” over fears it could topple over after an emergency landing at Heathrow, a report has revealed.

A Boeing 747 bound for Chicago was forced to return to the west London airport in January after a problem with its landing gear.

The aircraft was able to touch down safely on just three of its five sets of wheels, much to the relief of the 293 passengers on board, and it travelled the full length of the runway due to the reduced braking power. But their ordeal wasn’t quite complete. They were then told by cabin crew to disembark “very slowly” and to “not rock the plane” in case it tipped over.

The incident involved a BA 295 flight to Chicago O’Hare on January 30, but a full report was only published last week. The plane turned around just south of Iceland, two hours into its journey. It was forced to dump fuel before making the emergency landing at Heathrow, while the runway at the airport was closed for an hour so the aircraft could be secured and towed away.

Passengers were forced to wait several hours for a replacement flight, but heaped praise on the pilot.

“Kisses and hugs to the British Airways pilot who just landed the plane my husband was on when the landing gear failed,” tweeted Muriel Gray at the time. “Husband says BA pilot typically understated despite telling passengers how close a call that just was.”

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“The pilot was brilliant, very cool and calm,” passenger Martin Robinson told the Daily Star. “Landing was almost seamless. Better than other flights I’ve been on.”

“This was the aircraft’s first flight after maintenance, during which the Landing Gear Control Module (LGCM) was replaced,” stated the Air Accidents Investigation Branch report. “After retracting the landing gear following take-off from Heathrow, the crew were unable to move the landing gear lever from the ‘UP’ to the ‘OFF’ position, as it had become jammed in the ‘UP’ detent. The crew elected to return to Heathrow and the landing gear was lowered using the alternate extension system. The aircraft landed safely, with only the nose and body landing gear deployed.

“The landing gear lever jam was attributed to a maintenance error which had resulted in incorrect rigging of the landing gear lever system during the LGCM replacement, due to the omission to insert a rig pin in the selector valve quadrant. The operator has taken safety actions intended to prevent a recurrence.”

A BA spokesman said: “The aircraft landed safely with its nose and body landing gear functioning correctly. Our highly trained pilots practise a range of landings during their regular training. We have introduced additional engineering procedure checks and training to ensure this issue does not happen again.”

What happens when a plane’s landing gear fails?

When an aircraft is unable to touch down with its landing gear fully extended it must perform a gear-up or “belly” landing. Such a landing does carry a small risk – there is likely to be extensive damage to the aircraft; it could conceivably catch fire or flip over if it lands too hard. Bad weather or high winds can increase the danger.

However, such landings are normally safe if performed correctly, as numerous case studies show. In 2011, LOT Polish Airlines Flight 016 made a belly landing in Warsaw after its landing gear failed – there were no injuries reported. Similarly, Malév Flight 262 from Budapest to Thessaloniki had to make a gear-up landing on July 4, 2000, but there were no casualties.

Patrick Smith, a US pilot, examines the issue in his book Cockpit Confidential, with reference to a jetBlue flight which was forced to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles in 2005 when its landing gear failed to retract properly after take-off.

“Although only a minor incident from a technical point of view, the entire affair was caught on live television, engrossing millions of Americans and needlessly scaring the living daylights out of everybody on the plane,” he explains.

“Moments after liftoff from Burbank, California, the pilots realised their forward landing gear had not properly retracted and was cocked at 90 degrees. Unable to realign it, they would have to make an emergency landing with the tyres twisted sideways. The pilots and jetBlue’s dispatch team agreed to a diversion to Los Angeles, primarily to take advantage of LAX’s long runways. But first came the matter of the plane’s gross weight, which was several thousand pounds above its maximum allowable heft for touchdown.

“The A320, like other smaller jetliners, does not have a fuel dump capacity. This meant three hours of leisure flying over the Pacific until the poundage was down to the appropriate amount. Those three hours are what allowed this relative nonevent to be catapulted into a full-on spectacle.

“The California news outlets, out and about in search of the usual car chases and traffic accidents, had only to tip their cameras upwards to catch the Airbus as it circled. On board, 146 souls readied for what, according to the commentators, could very well be a devastating crash. Those of us who knew better… saw a jetliner preparing for what would be a telegenic but perfectly manageable landing. And that’s what we got.”

Gear-up landings are suprisingly common, and are not always made due to mechanical error. Often a pilot will simply forget to lower it – indeed, America’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported 96 unintentional gear-up landings in 2003 alone.

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