The British Airways jet that crash-landed at Heathrow on Thursday suffered a near-catastrophic loss of engine power at the last moment.
Initial investigations have established the Boeing 777’s two engines failed to respond to the cockpit controls when the aircraft was 600 feet from the ground on its final approach.
A preliminary report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport said flight BA038 from Beijing had been uneventful until two miles from Heathrow. But when first the autopilot and then the pilots manually demanded an increase in thrust, the engines repeatedly failed to respond.
The failure remains unexplained, but it appears the aircraft’s automatic warning system also failed to alert the pilots to the loss of power.
The aircraft descended rapidly, narrowly missing a road, a beacon and an airport perimeter fence, before stalling about 1,000 feet short of the runway and dropping to the ground from 10 feet, smashing the main landing gear.
It skidded on its belly almost to the runway and was close to bursting into flames as it leaked significant amounts of fuel.
Miraculously, only one of the 136 passengers and 16 crew suffered more than minor injuries, sustaining a broken leg.
The DfT investigation has been swelled by specialists from the US National Transportation Safety Board, the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and Rolls Royce. Investigators will produce an updated report in 30 days, but the final report may take a year.
There are more than 600 Boeing 777s in service and BA has 43 in its fleet. The aircraft has a fine safety record, with not one fatal incident since it entered service in 1995.
Heathrow returned close to normal on Saturday after 113 flights were cancelled on Friday.