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Stricken Jumbo allowed to fly over centre of London

13th January, 2006

A stricken Jumbo was allowed to fly over the centre of London with one engine down and three failing. This highlights the fact that Heathrow is by far the most dangerous airport in the country for those on the ground.

A stricken Jumbo was allowed to fly over the centre of London with one engine down and three failing. See story below (much of the material taken from the Times article on 13 Jan 06 by Ben Webster).A jumbo jet that had lost an engine and was losing power in the other three was diverted over Central London, putting hundreds of lives at risk on the ground, an investigation has found.The crew were “fortunate” that there was good visibility because in low cloud “the aircraft might have landed well short of the runway”, according to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

It ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out an urgent review of the guidance given to air traffic controllers on diverting aircraft in emergencies over densely populated areas.

The American-owned cargo plane was not carrying any charts for Heathrow and the pilots did not realise that their diversion would take them over thousands of homes. They appeared unaware of other options open to them, including Gatwick, Luton and Stansted, which would have allowed them to avoid built-up areas.

The incident, in April 2004, began as the Evergreen International Airlines aircraft was flying at 36,000ft over Southend-on-Sea, en route from Ramstein in Germany to New York. An engine failed and the flight engineer was unable to restart it. Minutes later, after the aircraft had descended to 21,000ft, the captain noticed that he was losing power in the other three engines.

The crew radioed the airline’s maintenance centre but it was “unable to offer any solutions”, according to the AAIB report. The captain then declared an emergency and asked air traffic control to clear him to land at Heathrow.

Fearing that he was about to lose all four engines, he altered the controls of the Boeing 747 to prepare it for gliding. As the aircraft descended over Croydon, the female co-pilot told the air traffic controller: “We’re just not sure we’re gonna get enough power to land.”

The captain was forced to make a series of sharp “S” turns to lose height as he approached Heathrow.

The 34-year-old plane was still too high as it passed over Richmond, six miles from Heathrow, but the pilot was forced to commit to landing because the aircraft lacked the thrust to climb up for another attempt.

The report praised the captain’s safe landing of the aircraft but said that the outcome could have been very different in cloudy weather.

Campaigners against the expansion of Heathrow have long predicted that a disaster will eventually happen because more than 500 flights a day pass over Central London as they approach the airport.

The Government has proposed building a third runway at the airport, which would add 1,000 more flights a week over the capital. Most other big cities have positioned their airports in places that do not require planes to approach over the centre.

AEF comment: “Heathrow is by far the most dangerous airport in the country for those on the ground. This is because there are far more planes flying over far more people than anywhere else. This fact is largely ignored by the government, which takes into acount only ‘individual risk’ as opposed to ‘societal risk’.”

A new section on public safety will be added to the web site shortly. See below for document which discusses the issue and in particular ‘Public Safety Zones’.

AEF paper on public safety (danger) and ‘Public Safety