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Thousands of families have had their bank holiday break ruined after being stranded at Heathrow following the emergency landing of a British Airways airbus.
The airport was forced to cancel 193 flights on one of the busiest days of the year after closing both its runways when the service to Oslo turned back following an engine fire.
Heathrow was due to handle 225,000 passengers, about 35,000 more than normal. Its operation was thrown into disarray by the shutting down of the southern runway, which was used for departures from 8.24 to shortly after 9 am.
The northern runway, which was handling arrivals was closed from 8.43 until 10.38 am.
While the closures were comparatively brief they had a devastating impact on Heathrow’s operation.
British Airways cancelled all short-haul flights until 4pm in an attempt to contain the chaos and enable it to salvage its operation for the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend.
Worst hit were passengers flying to European airports at a time when demand for weekend city-breaks was high for destinations such as Amsterdam, Dublin and Geneva.
Thousands of passengers milled around the terminals trying to find alternative flights. With many services full, hopes of a short getaway were dashed.
Three people who had been on the plane were treated for minor injuries after it was forced to return to Heathrow shortly after taking off, after what a British Airways spokesperson said was a ‘technical fault.’
A number of eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke billowing from the back of the plane. Clive Cook was walking with his daughter and saw the plane crossing the Thames near Battersea Bridge. He told Sky News: “I looked up and saw the plane coming through the clouds and the right engine was on fire. It wasn’t smoking, it was on fire.
“This plane was coming over and suddenly the tone of the engine changed dramatically. I can almost say it sounded like it was a blow-out or an explosion.”
British Airways said two pilots and three crew members had been on board the flight, which took off from Heathrow at about 8.16 a.m.
They said they could not confirm the cause of the incident and that the Air Accident Investigation Branch at British Airways would now be conducting a full investigation.