Ab Revellers Odi
Virgin Atlantic VS43: Terrified passengers describe drama as flight forced to make emergency landing
Watch this video again
Passengers onboard a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet endured four hours of terror as its hero pilot desperately burned off fuel before making a dramatic emergency landing.
The packed plane was forced to circle over Gatwick after one set of wheels became stuck just minutes into the scheduled nine-hour flight to Las Vegas.
Hundreds of terrified revellers heading to the US city for New Year”s Eve celebrations cried and prayed as they VS43 waited to land.
Emergency crews waited on the tarmac at Britain”s second-busiest airport as the jumbo made two fly-pasts so that engineers to assess the problem.
Getty ImagesMidair Terror: A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 jumbo jet passenger plane got into trouble on its way to Las Vegas
Virgin flight attendants were told to carry out an unprecedented second safety briefing to all passengers before the emergency landing.
The plane eventually landed on three sets of main wheels with 447 passengers in the brace position more than four hours after taking off.
Relieved passengers, including families with small children, cheered and clapped as the pilot announced the landing had gone smoothly.
Airport bosses decided not to evacuate the aircraft and instead kept people onboard the plane while engineers checked the aircraft.
Fuel Burn: Stills from a video showing fuel being dumped from the aircraft
Incredibly some passengers rang up Virgin to book a seat for a rearranged flight tomorrow while still sitting on the stricken plane.
Dan Crane, from Bromsgrove, Worcs, said some of his fellow passengers began crying as they realised the seriousness of the situation.
He 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."
Praising the crew, the 24-year-old added: "They said it was an emergency landing and we had to brace on impact."
He later posted photos from inside the stricken plane on his Twitter account, writing: "Props to the pilot, not a clue how he landed that plane".
Landing Problems: Witnesses said they saw problems with the landing gear from the ground
Passenger Hardeek Desai said he saw fuel being dumped out of the wing and revealed passengers were "screaming and shouting" as the plane touched down.
He said: "The staff were trying to keep everyone calm but a few passengers were a bit panicky.
"One of the captain crew came out into the actual seating area to tell everyone that it was going to be OK.
"The staff were giving out drinks and water to make sure everyone was OK, but generally the mood was pretty good, until we hit the brace position.
"For my mind, personally, I was a bit worried, thinking what”s going to happen? It doesn”t really seem normal that fuel is coming out of the wing.
"I was slightly worried but just trying to keep calm and listen to what the staff were telling us. Around 30 seconds before we actually hit the ground, we were told to adopt the brace."
Flight Path: This FlightRadar map shows the circular pattern the flight took before landing
"At that stage it was literally just everyone shouting “brace” and people just screaming and shouting," he continued. "Everyone was a bit worried about what was going on.
"No one knew what was going on because we all had our heads down. As soon as they started to shout “brace”, everyone more or less panicked."
Passenger Nick Hughes, 38, from Staffordshire, told the Mirror of his lucky escape from flight VS43.
He had to reassure worried partner Tracy Devlin, 48, when the crew revealed the plane had a serious problem.
Lowe Flying: Witnesses described the plane coming into Gatwick slowly and lower than normal
Nick told the Mirror: "The flights were a birthday present from Tracy who is a fairly nervous flier.
"I was trying to keep Tracy calm so I kept telling her everything was going to be okay.
"When the cabin crew announced we were going to land one or two people on the plane did get upset.
"I just looked out of the window at the view. There was a beautiful sunset and I was thinking “Is this the last one I”m going to see?”
"The pilot was trying everything to open the landing gear correctly," Mr Hughes continued.
"He was tilting the plane from left to right, wing to wing. He also tried gaining altitude before suddenly dropping a few feet.
"The crew couldn”t have done anything more. They were absolutely brilliant."
Safe Landing: The pilot has been universally praised for bringing the plane down safely
Flight VS43 left Gatwick at 11.44am for Las Vegas” McCarran Airport but turned around before it had left British airspace after a landing gear warning lights went off.
The jumbo circled around the south coast and dumped fuel into the English Channel to minimise the risk of fire in a forced landing.
Dramatic photographs taken from the ground showed the right-side wing landing gear – one of four under the wings – had failed to deploy.
Terra Firma: Passengers leave Flight VS43 after it touched down at Gatwick
Passenger Holly Jackson said the flight 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 but it didn”t work and we were told we would have to get into the brace position for a landing.
"It was then that everybody did start to get scared."
After the landing passengers broke out into spontaneous applause for the hero pilot, named online only as “David”.
Twitter user @alexia_g88 posted: "Biggest round of applause I”ve ever heard for a pilot landing. He”s kept us informed the whole time of everything".
@JPDoy 100% the staff were amazing the whole way through. We've actually said thank you face to face
— Alexia (@alexia_g88) December 29, 2014
Passengers were then taken off the plane 70 at a time to make sure it remained stable before being checked over by Hazardous Area Response paramedics.
A spokesman for Gatwick Airport said several passengers suffered "minor injuries" in the landing but did not require hospital treatment.
The dramatic incident forced the closure of Gatwick”s only runway, with dozens of flights diverted to other airports.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson tweeted: "Well done @virginatlantic pilots & team for safe & skillful landing of #VS43. Thoughts with passengers & crew, thanks for support & patience".
Well done @virginatlantic pilots & team for safe & skillful landing of #VS43. Thoughts with passengers & crew, thanks for support & patience
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) December 29, 2014
Most of the passengers are expected to travel to Las Vegas tomorrow on a specially-arranged Virgin flight after being put up by the airline at an airport hotel.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Craig Kreeger said: "I understand that this will have been a very upsetting situation for the customers involved, and for their friends and family.
"We will make sure they are well looked after and will be operating a special flight for everyone who would like to continue their journey."
Virgin Atlantic VS43 emergency: Live updates as passenger plane circles Gatwick with 'landing gear problems'