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BRITAIN: Captain praises crew.

Byline: By SARA THOMAS

A BRITISH Airways captain last night heaped praise on his staff for the "teamwork and professionalism" they showed when their Boeing 777 crash landed at Heathrow airport.

And father-of-three Peter Burkill, 43, disclosed that John Coward, his senior first officer - or co-pilot - had actually been the handling pilot on the approach to the west London airport.

Appearing before cheering BA staff at the company's Heathrow headquarters, Captain Burkill made a brief statement on the dramatic events which saw the Boeing plane skidding across the grass and being badly damaged before coming to rest across the tip of the airport's runway.

His appearance in the spotlight followed a day in which Prime Minister Gordon Brown had led the praise for the BA crew whose actions meant that only 18 of the 136 passengers on board had needed hospital treatment and then only for minor injuries.

Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) staff were last night continuing their probe into the incident, as it became clearer that a sudden loss of engine power was the likely cause of the crash.

A neighbour of Captain Burkill said she had texted Mr Burkill's wife, Maria, and understood that the plane had "lost power at 500ft" as it came into land.

The AAIB is due to publish an initial report today which will outline the basic facts. It could be that causes of the accident will not be officially known until an AAIB preliminary report due in about 30 days.

With the wrecked airliner still on the edge of the tarmac, passengers at Heathrow had to contend with more than 50 cancellations - mostly to BA short-haul flights.

Mr Burkill appeared with Mr Coward, the crashed plane's cabin services director Sharron Eaton-Mercer, and BA chief executive Willie Walsh when he made his statement.

He said: "We had an outstanding team on board yesterday." He added that the crew had shown "the highest standards of skill and professionalism" and that Mr Coward had done "a most remarkable job".

Pilots' union Balpa said Captain Burkill and his first officer John Coward were "ordinary people who did an extraordinary thing".

Balpa said that after being interviewed by the AAIB, the two pilots had relaxed over "a quiet curry".

Balpa said the men had no wish to be perceived as heroes and considered the story's front-page status "embarrassing".

BA said the cockpit crew and the entire staff on the stricken plane would be allowed as much time off as they needed.

Valerie Firminger, who lives close to the Burkill family near Worcester, said he was "everything you imagine a pilot to be" and would have coped with the emergency "brilliantly".

Speaking of her text session with Mrs Burkill, Mrs Firminger said: "Apparently you put flaps up which gives you an extra lift and he had just managed to get over the perimeter fence."

Mrs Firminger said the Burkills and their sons Troy, two; Logan who is about 18 months; and Coby, who is just a few months old, had been living at their house in King Stephens Mount for about 18 months.

THE two engines on the stricken Boeing twice failed to respond to demands for more thrust as the aircraft was just 600ft up and only two miles from touch down, an initial air accident report said last night.

The flight had been normal until that point but the plane "descended rapidly and struck the ground some 1,000ft short of the paved runway surface, just inside the airfield boundary fence", the report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

The report went on: "At approximately 600ft and two miles from touch down, the autothrottle demanded an increase in thrust from the two engines but the engines did not respond.

"Following further demands for increased thrust from the autothrottle, and subsequently the flight crew moving the throttle levers, the engines similarly failed to respond.

"The aircraft speed reduced and the aircraft descended onto the grass short of the paved runway surface."

CAPTION(S):

Pictured yesterday, Senior First Officer John Coward, Cpt Peter Burkill and Cabin Service Director Sharron Eaton-Mercer
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 19, 2008
Words:684
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