With only seconds remaining, the captain did not take over but decreased the flap setting to reduce drag just enough for them to get over the perimeter fence and crash down short of the runway.
It took a considerable time for the investigators to demonstrate how and why the interruption of the fuel supply to the engines occurred.
Airways Flight 38, January 17, 2008
After a long flight from Beijing, which only differed from many others in that the aircraft flew through some exceptionally cold air early on, the British Airways Boeing 777 was coming in quite normally to land at London’s Heathrow’s Runway 27L. As is usual after what is virtually a long, steady glide under the new arrangement to save fuel, a little extra thrust was required at the last minute to prevent the aircraft losing too much airspeed and sinking below the glide path.
To the pilots’ dismay, this was not forthcoming, and it looked as if the aircraft was destined to touch down just before reaching the airport. The first officer was flying the aircraft at the time, and although normally the captain takes over in a crisis, he let him continue—an apparently sensible decision, as the first officer had the feel of the aircraft and there was so little time left. The captain reduced the amount of flap to 25 percent, thus reducing the drag and allowing the aircraft to fly farther. The aircraft staggered over the perimeter fence and came down heavily on the grass just beyond some thousand feet short of the paved runway.
The right main landing gear broke off, while the force of the impact forced the landing gear on the left into the wing. The first officer managed to keep the aircraft in a straight line and thus prevent it from cartwheeling. After skidding across the grass, it ended up just at the beginning of the runway paving. Despite an escape of fuel due to the pilots’ failure to switch off the fuel supply to the engines correctly, there was no fire and there were no fatalities. The 136 passengers and 16 crew members evacuated the aircraft via the chutes, with one passenger suffering a broken leg. The airline and no doubt its insurers soon deemed the aircraft not worth repairing and classed it as a write-off.
Initially, the media reported many passengers considered it a nonevent, with some only thinking it had been a hard landing. Their main gripe seemed to be their insensitive treatment on reaching the terminal. Yet some days later, with the arrival of lawyers on the scene, some were talking of the great distress they had suffered as justification for suing the airline.
This in turn led to the CEO of BA personally contacting passengers to head off legal action by showing personal concern. In this context, one might mention that some at BA think some business- and first-class passengers regard the airline as a soft touch in that they greatly exaggerate their suffering when things go wrong in order to obtain free flights and/or upgrades. Passengers in economy are not treated so benignly by the airline.