BA plane crash lands at London's Heathrow airport
By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) - A British Airways plane crash-landed at London's Heathrow airport on Thursday, injuring 11 people and triggering an investigation as to why the Boeing 777 flying in from China landed short of the runway.
Fire engines smothered the aircraft in foam after the landing at the world's busiest international airport extensively damaged its wings and ripped off its undercarriage.
The wheels of the plane, which had a routine maintenance check in December, were still in the field where it crashed, several hundred meters from the runway.
"I win the lottery today," Fernando Prado, one of the 136 passengers on board, said after being safely evacuated by emergency chute from the wreckage.
He said the landing gear appeared to fail. "I saw the engine on the tarmac. Everything was over quickly. There was no panic at all," he told BBC News.
An airport spokesman said in a statement that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch was inspecting the aircraft.
"BA Flight 38 arriving from Beijing made an emergency landing at 1242," he said.
"Passengers were immediately evacuated and taken to a reception centre at the airport.
"Heathrow Airport's southern runway was closed immediately after the incident. It has now re-opened for take-offs only. The northern runway is operating for arriving aircraft."
BAA said 11 passengers suffered minor injuries and warned travelers would face chaos as many flights were subject to delays while others were cancelled. Normally about 40 flights an hour touch down at Heathrow, just west of the capital, with a further 40 taking off.
It is unclear how long the disruption will last.
The ambulance service said three people were slightly injured. British Airways said it had no comment to offer on why the plane came down.
In a statement, BA chief executive Willie Walsh described his crew, which he said followed safety procedures to the letter, as magnificent.
"The captain of the aircraft is one of our most experienced and has been flying with us for nearly 20 years," he said.
A London police spokeswoman said: "There is nothing to suggest it is terror-related."
One eyewitness, Steve Bell, said the wheels were not down on landing, and he heard a grating noise.
"It turned about 90 degrees on landing. Its wheels were not down. Within minutes fire crews arrived and evacuated all the passengers," he told BBC News 24 television.
Among the planes delayed was a flight Prime Minister Gordon Brown was taking on an official trip to India and China.
(Additional reporting by Avril Ormsby and Andrew Hough)