All 136 passengers from a British Airways Boeing 777-200 were evacuated, three of them suffering minor injuries, when the aircraft was badly damaged by landing short of the runway at London Heathrow, according to a statement by the airline's chief executive Willie Walsh.

From the limited information available within a few hours of the accident, the aircraft appears to have suffered engine power loss on the approach.

Inbound from Beijing, China, flight BA38 was on the approach to runway 27L at 12.43 local time, when there was a loss of power on both engines at some stage late in the approach. The reason for the power loss is not yet known, nor is it known whether power loss was total.

                                                                                                 © PA photo

The crew managed to control the descent to a touchdown with wings level, on grass just over the perimeter fence at Heathrow, on the 27L extended centreline. The gear was down, flaps were set at about 20°, and the indications are that the crew had started the auxiliary power unit.

On touchdown the 777's gear dug into the soft ground and separated. The aircraft came to rest at the threshold of runway 27L having made a short ground run of about 350m (1,150ft), probably because at touchdown the aircraft was close to its stalling speed.

When the main gear separated it caused considerable damage to the engines and the wings near the wing-root trailing edge.

The weather at Heathrow at the time was wind from 220° at 16kt (30km/h), broken cloud at 1,400ft (426m) and 2,000ft, temperature 11°C, dew point 9°C, with a warning that the wind might vary temporarily to 240° at 20kt, gusting to 32kt. The visibility was greater than 10km (6.2 miles).

Airport operator BAA says the aircraft (G-YMMM) made an emergency landing, but it is not clear whether that statement is a description of the crash landing or an affirmation that the crew had declared an emergency. BA is unable to say whether the crew had declared an emergency before touchdown.

Almost all the passengers who have commented since the accident say the approach felt normal and the crew did not provide any warnings, but the touchdown was hard and the evacuation was uneventful and took a short time. There was no fire. There were 136 passengers, three flightdeck crew and 13 cabin crew on board, the airline confirms.

Heathrow's southern runway, 27L, was closed briefly, but it is now operation for take-offs only, and the northern runway is in operation.

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Source: Flight International