Passengers on board a British Airways flight that was forced to make an emergency landing after an engine caught fire praised the pilot's swift and calm action.
The airbus A319, bound for Oslo, left Heathrow Airport in London shortly before 8am and was ascending to the west when passengers heard a loud "popping" and an engine caught fire.
The pilot had to divert back to the airport, taking a flight path across central London. Witnesses described seeing smoke billowing out of one of the plane's engines yesterday.
It was the most serious incident at Heathrow since January 2008, when another British Airways flight, a Boeing 777, crash landed after both its engines failed as it approached the airport.
David Gallagher, the chief executive of a public relations company, was among the 75 passengers on board. He said they realised something was wrong within 10 minutes of take-off.
"We heard this loud popping sound," he said. "I was sitting on the left and could see that the engine had blown its cover.
"People sitting on the other side realised that the same thing had happened there too.
"It was certainly rather alarming but the cabin crew remained completely calm.
"Then we realised that the right engine was on fire, there was lots of smoke. It triggered a lot of anxiety, there were a few people who were very upset.
"The plane was about three-quarters full, so the people sitting near the engine moved away.
"The captain came back on and said we would be returning to London. He said it might be a tough landing but it wasn't.
"We were brought off the plane very quickly and came down the slides."
He added: "You never think you'll have to do that, it was pretty scary. I could see that the engine was still on fire. We were only in the air for 20 minutes but it felt like an hour."
Onlookers on the ground spoke of their fear at seeing an aircraft above them with its engine on fire.
Clive Cook, who lives under the flight path, said: "This plane was coming over and suddenly the tone of the engine changed dramatically."
Some experts suggested that one of the engines may have suffered a bird strike. Others believe that the inquiry will focus on the maintenance of the aircraft. (© Daily Telegraph, London)