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Tue, Sep 26, 2006

'Amazed' Controllers Watched Damaged 747 Depart

Captain Had Engine Fire, But Wanted to 'Get As Far As We Can'

That British Airways Boeing 747 that shut down one engine after takeoff due to fire -- and then continued for 5,000 miles from Los Angeles to England -- simply "amazed" tower controllers when they discovered the plane would not be returning to base.

In transcripts revealed Monday to the Wall Street Journal, controllers were stunned that the plane would press on after losing the engine shortly after takeoff. The incident on British Airways Flight 268 occurred just a few minutes after take off from Los Angeles International on February 20, 2005.

The Guardian Newspaper reports in the transcript, a controller warns the plane: "It appears you have flames coming out of either your number one or number two engine." The captain replies: "We're shutting it down."

The tower controller passes the plane on to another controller and tells him: "He had flames coming out of it. We don't know what he wants to do. We know he wants to come back, probably."

The pilot is told to climb to 5,000 ft, and advise controllers of his intentions. The pilot replied, "Climb and maintain 5,000. We are able. We will advise. We had a surge on takeoff and we're just doing the checks."

The controller asks how many people are on board. The pilot says 351 passengers and 18 crew, and tells the controller: "We have now shut down the Number 2 engine. We are going to consult our company and see what they require us to do."

The controller asked again his intentions, and the British Airways captain replied, "We just decided we want to set off on our flight-plan route and get as far as we can."  The Captain had discussed the situation with his home base in the UK and the decision was made to press on.

Clearance is given and the controller speaks to his colleague who saw the flames. "Is he going?" the original controller asks. "He's going" is the reply.

"If you would have saw what we saw out the window, you'd be amazed at that."

In what can only be described as an amazing coincidence, the incident happened three days after new European Union rules went into effect that would require airlines to compensate passengers for long delays or cancellations. If the pilot had returned to LAX, British Airways would been stuck for around $200,000.

By pressing on, the airline was able to avoid that bill, but suffered the embarrassment of having to declare a fuel emergency and landed short of its destination in Manchester, England.

BA has admitted it had flown 747s to distant destinations on three engines 15 times since April 2001, including the same plane after it was repaired and the replacement engine had to be shut down.

The airline has vociferously denied that the decision to press on with only 3/4 of its available engines had anything to do with financial considerations. However, BA policy has since been clarified that the plane must land if it experiences an engine failure, even if those engines remaining are running just fine.

FMI: www.britishairways.com

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