Heathrow Plane Crash-Landing Caused By Ice

The crash of a British Airways jet at Heathrow Airport earlier this year - from which, by some miracle, everyone escaped virtually unscathed - was probably caused by ice restricting the flow of fuel to the engines, investigators have now said.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is now set to recommend that airlines introduce interim measures for all Boeing 777s to reduce the risk of this happening again.

Passengers escaped down the emergency chutes after British Airways flight BA38 from Beijing came down.

Six ambulances were sent to the scene and three people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

Just one passenger suffered a broken leg and eight others received minor injuries when it came down short of the runway on January 17.

The alert delayed the departure of Prime Minister Gordon Brown who was the due to leave Heathrow for China and India.

Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports, was disrupted for a time as the south runway was closed while investigators examined the scene.

Now it has emerged that the cockpit crew were unable to get the required thrust from the engines as the jet approached Heathrow and it landed on the grass just inside the airport's boundary fence.

Co-pilot John Coward, 41, took control for the landing and, at a height of about 720ft, the thrust of the right engine reduced. About seven seconds later, the thrust of the left engine reduced to a similar level.

The engines continued running, but not with the amount of thrust demanded. By 200ft, the airspeed had reduced to about 108 knots and the autopilot disconnected at 175ft.

This fifth report into the incident, focusing on the aircraft's fuel system. concluded: "The investigation has shown that the fuel flow to both engines was restricted - most probably due to ice within the fuel feed system.

"This ice is likely to have formed from water that occurred naturally in the fuel whilst the aircraft operated for a long period, with low fuel flows, in an unusually cold environment."

Investigators said they had ruled out problems with fuel quality or quantity, the fuel freezing or incorrect procedures by the flight crew as causes of the crash.

But they noted that they found distinctive and abnormal marks on the high-pressure fuel pumps from both engines of the BA 777. The experts concluded that these were formed by a phenomenon called 'cavitation', which is caused by a restriction in the fuel flow to the pump.

Aircraft are designed to cope with significant amounts of the ice crystals which form in fuel when they climb into sub-zero atmospheric conditions.

But tests on a Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engine, like that in the BA jet, showed that restricting fuel flow to the high-pressure pump caused a similar effect to that recorded in the accident.

See: Passengers Escape Heathrow Plane Crash


Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

12 November 2012
MPs To Vote On Fuel Rise Delay
MPs will vote on Monday evening on plans to increase fuel duty by 3 pence a litre in January. Labour have said "it would be wrong" to bring the new rise in s soon an want it delayed until at least April. Conservative MPs concerned about the cost of petrol said they believed Chancellor George Osborne was "in listening mode" over the issue.
19 March 2008
Countdown For Fuel Payments For Pensioners
Over 60s who haven't yet claimed the Winter Fuel Payment have just days to get in touch with The Pension Service to receive help with energy costs. Pensions Minister Mike O'Brien urged older people to get their claim forms in the post before 28 March. The Winter Fuel Payment is £200 for the over 60s rising to £300 for the over 80s.
07 September 2005
Fuel protests threatened
Protestors have threatened to begin blockading refineries next week, if the tax on fuel is not reduced. Andrew Spence, a spokesperson for the Fuel Lobby, warned that the blockades would begin at 6am on September 14, unless price cuts were made.
24 June 2005
British Airways announces ticket price rises
British Airways (BA) has announced an increase in fuel surcharge on ticket prices, due to increasing oil price rises. The longhaul fuel surcharge will increase to £48 per return trip, while the surcharge for shorthaul flights will rise to £16 for a return trip, for all tickets purchased from June 27.
24 April 2008
Report Shows Government Is Failing Pensioners In Fuel Poverty
The Government is failing pensioners and poor families in fuel poverty, according to a coalition of Age Concern, Child Poverty Action Group, and National Energy Action.