Burkill took the instinctive decision to bring in the aircraft’s flaps in a last-ditch attempt to reduce drag and give the plane a chance of clearing Hatton Cross. “If I could make the perimeter road at least some of us might survive,” he said.
The plane, with first officer, the ironically named John Coward, at the controls, landed around 270 metres short of the runway, just beyond the A30.
“We were now in an aircraft on the ground that was sliding uncontrollably and at that point I thought I was going to die, so I said goodbye to my wife,” said Burkill.
The plane was a write-off – the nose gear collapsed, the right main gear separated from the aircraft, penetrating a fuel tank, and the left main gear was pushed up through the wing – but just one passenger had suffered a serious injury by the time it came to a halt beside the threshold markings at the start of the runway.
Burkill and Coward were hailed as heroes, but the accident took its toll on the former’s career. After being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder, Burkill returned to the cockpit five months later. But he took voluntary redundancy in August 2009 and criticised BA over its handling of the incident, claiming he had been “hung out to dry”. Finding a new job with an accident on his record, however, proved difficult, and he rejoined the airline in 2010.
3. The Jakarta incident
June 24, 1982
British Airways Flight 9 from Heathrow to Auckland was passing over Jakarta when it ran into volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Galunggung, resulting in the failure of all four of the 747’s engines. One of the first signs of a problem came when smoke began to accumulate in the cabin. A few minutes later number four engine sputtered to a halt, followed by two, then three and one.
Naturally, there was concern in the cockpit, with the flight engineer exclaiming: “I don’t believe it – all four engines have failed!” Furthermore, the dust sandblasted the windscreen, making it almost impossible to see.
The captain, Eric Moody, tried to reassure passengers with the following statement: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
Passengers reportedly scribbled notes to loved ones (one, by Charles Capewell, read: “Ma. In trouble. Plane going down. Will do best for boys. We love you. Sorry. Pa XXX”), while Moody calculated how far the plane might be able to glide before reaching sea level (91 miles he deduced, from its flight level of 37,000 feet).
Luckily, at around 13,500 feet, and with a ditching in the ocean on the cards, the engines restarted successfully. The plane landed safety in Jakarta despite the almost total lack of visibility. It was, in Moody’s words, “a bit like negotiating one’s way up a badger’s arse.”