A quick-thinking Irish co-pilot helped save 172 people on board the British Airways jet which caught fire on the runway of an airport in the US.
All passengers on board flight BA2276 were saved by the skill of veteran pilot Chris Henkey and his Irish co-pilot Ian Callaghan yesterday when flames began to pour out of the aircraft’s left engine.
Mr Callaghan (27) from Bellewstown, Co Meath, calmly communicated to the control tower as the Boeing 777-200 caught fire.
Ian, a former pupil of Gormanston College who played juvenile GAA for Meath, aborted take-off with his colleague, saving the passengers.
Terrified travellers used emergency slides to escape from the stricken aircraft at the airport in Las Vegas. As they ran to the safety of the terminal, they could see flames pouring out of the aircraft’s left engine and smoke billowing into the sky.
The aircraft had been taxiing along the runway at McCarran Airport when the engine burst into flames.
Today, people in Bellewstown were toasting the life-saving quick thinking of local man Ian, and his colleague.
A cousin of Ian spoke today of the family’s relief that a disaster was averted by the pilots’ actions.
“Ian’s training would have kicked in and his coolness and calmness would have been expected,” said Tom Callaghan, first cousin of Ian’s father Paddy.
“Ian was head boy at Gormanstown College and he always showed leadership and caring for others. I’m delighted obviously for the whole family that we are talking today about a positive outcome,” he told The Herald.
Ian was on a Meath GAA juvenile squad and rejoined Duleek Bellewstown GAA Club this year, said Mr Callaghan, who is chairman of the club.
“We’re very proud of Ian and we’re delighted that he and his pilot were able to help so many people escape with their lives,” local man Michael Leonard told the Herald.
“A lot of pilots live in Bellewstown because of its proximity to the airport. Local people are very relieved today that all the passengers were saved,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wayne McGuinness from Drogheda in Co Louth, and Grace Monks, from Stamullen in Co Meath, were thankful to have escaped with their lives.
“I can’t believe we’re still alive. I never thought anything like this could happen to us, freaked isn’t the word,” Wayne wrote on Facebook.
“We’re so lucky and still have to fly home tomorrow. Someone is definitely looking over us.
“We’ve small burns on our backs from jumping down the emergency slide.”
Another passenger said the Boeing 777 came to a juddering halt and the pilot told those on board that the plane had suffered a catastrophic engine failure.
Miraculously, everybody was evacuated safely. However, 14 people – including both passengers and crew members – were taken to hospital.
Seven people were being treated for minor injuries last night. Some passengers were criticised for taking their hand luggage with them as they left the burning plane.
A British Airways spokesperson said the fire was due to a “technical issue”.