The pilot of Virgin Atlantic flight VS43 which was forced to make an emergency landing at Gatwick Airport on Monday, December 29 has been hailed as a hero after saving the lives of 447 passengers and 15 crew.
Senior Pilot David Williams who lives near Horsham, West Sussex landed a Boeing 747 jumbo jet after its landing gear failed.
The flight was bound for McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas. Passenger Mike Kaufman said about half an hour into the flight, passengers were informed the jet would have to go back to Gatwick. Mr Kaufman said: “They said it was a hydraulic problem. When we were told we would have to go into the brace position for landing a sigh went around the plane.”
The aircraft circled between Gatwick and the south coast to burn off fuel, according to eyewitnesses, one of the five landing gears on the jet had failed to deploy.
Virgin Atlantic told The District Post: “As you know our captain has been trying to stay out of the media. Since being named however, he has offered words to share.”
David Williams, Captain at Virgin Atlantic commented: “All of our pilots at Virgin Atlantic are trained to the highest standards and we go through regular testing to deal with any scenario that may arise. Clearly this was an out of the ordinary landing but I was just doing my job and any one of our pilots would have taken the same actions.
“I’m really proud of my colleagues on the ground and in the air and the support they gave me during this event – everyone worked really hard in a difficult situation and we are delighted that our customers were able to travel to Las Vegas the next day for their New Year’s Eve celebrations. Thank you for your interest and I hope you can respect my request for privacy as I am keen to spend some private time with my family over the New Year.”
Describing the mood on the plane as it was circling, passenger Dan Crane, 24, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, said it was “anxious, a lot were worried, some crying. The mood was quiet and (we were) just waiting for the captain’s next announcement.”
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service were on standby at the airport and eyewitnesses on the ground reported the jet was flying at a relatively low altitude and the pilot appeared to be trying to shake the landing gear down.
Passenger Holly Jackson said the crew tried to “deliberately bounce” the plane to get the faulty landing gear back into position.
She said: “They said this was a precautionary procedure, or something like that . But it didn’t work and we were told we would have to get into the brace position for a landing and it was then that everybody did start to get scared.”
She said thoughts went through her mind that, in situations like this, either “everybody is safe or no one is”. But she added: “The captain did amazingly. You would not have even known there was something wrong with the plane from that landing.”
The jumbo landed at the airport just before 4pm.
Mr Kaufman, speaking from his seat on the plane back at Gatwick, said: “This was one of the greatest emergency landings in history. It was very smooth.”
Interviewed for Sky News, he went on: “We didn’t realise there would be such a fuss. It was such a calm, experience. About half an hour out they said we would have to go back to Gatwick. They said it was a hydraulic problem.
“People got used to the idea that we were going to have to land back at Gatwick. The crew were very calm and that made the passengers calm.
“People in the row with me were saying ‘We want this over and done with’. We thought we’d be fine but you’re never sure.
“Everybody gave the crew a big round of applause when we landed.”
The flight was rescheduled for the following day.