(AFP) – Jan 19, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — The co-pilot who averted disaster by safely landing his stricken plane at Heathrow Airport told the Mail on Sunday he feared a "major catastrophe".
John Coward, who was at the controls Thursday when the engines on his Boeing 777 failed over west London, has been hailed as a hero for his coolness under pressure.
He narrowly got the British Airways plane over the rooftops and the Heathrow perimeter fence before crash-landing on the grass, meaning all 136 passengers and 16 crew escaped with their lives.
But he does not consider himself a hero and said some of the credit had to go to an act of God.
"Normally in emergency situations, your training takes over," the 41-year-old said.
"But training doesn't help much when your engines have just died and you are still short of the runway.
"I tried to keep the aircraft straight and when we went down I remember thinking, 'This is going to be a major catastrophe.'
"All the crew did their job absolutely brilliantly but I think some thanks has to go to the man upstairs for giving us that little lift at the end.
"We are intensively drilled in how to re-fire the engines. But in this case there was no time -- just a matter of seconds.
"I just focused on holding it up in the air as long as possible, then keeping it straight. When we landed there were several thuds. I expected there to be a major catastrophe but there wasn't.
"I can't even remember how I got off the plane but there was a fair degree of panic. Then I sat in a room with lots of people rushing around me.
"I was staring into space thinking about what I could do, as the adrenaline was still pumping hard."
He said he now felt "happy but utterly exhausted".
"I had barely got through the door when our nine-year-old daughter Coralie threw her arms around me and said, 'My daddy the hero.' But I don't consider myself a hero at all."
Flights at Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, returned to normal on Saturday as investigators probed why the plane lost power.
In an initial report on the incident, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said Friday that the twin engines failed to respond to the throttles at a height of about 600 feet (180 metres) and two miles (three kilometres) from touch down.
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