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Pilot Tim Barnby

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Tim Barnby

Tim proved himself as a very professional airline captain on Nov. 5th 1997 when, with 114 people on board, deteriorating weather and strong crosswinds, he successfully landed his Airbus A340 at London's Heathrow Airport with its left wheels locked in the up position.

The drama began when one of the jet's sets of wheels failed to open properly as flight VS024 from Los Angeles was coming in to land on Wednesday November 5th 1997.

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Eleven hours earlier, as Tim took off from Los Angeles he had noted that the under-carriage had taken longer than normal to return to their in-flight position; however the instrument panel had indicated that everything was normal, although only three of the four gear lights had turned green.

After several attempts to lower the wheels, the crew assumed that the gear was down and the light was malfunctioning. As the plane descended to an altitude of 750 feet, alarms in the cockpit had started to ring. Because the pilot's could not see the landing gear, they flew the plane low over the control tower for air traffic control to assess the situation; they reported that not only were the left wheels not down, but the door hadn't even opened.

Heathrow Airport prepared for a crash-landing. With the 2.5 mile long runway lined with emergency response vehicles, Tim took the controls and would have to land while keeping the left wing elevated, using only the right wheels.

Captain Barnby said: "With the help of two co-pilots (Andrew Morley and Craig Matheson) I managed to keep the aircraft upright. When we landed we skidded down the runway but we came to a stop and all the passengers were evacuated within one minute."

Fire crews sprayed the fuselage with foam as passengers used emergency chutes to get onto the tarmac. Nine of the 98 passengers and 16 crew members needed hospital treatment for minor injuries sustained during the evacuation. Passengers from the ill-fated flight had nothing but praise for the crew. Virgin Atlantic said its pilot had done "a storming job".

However, a modest Captain Barnby said the procedure he followed was similar to an exercise which all Virgin pilots practised on flight simulators. "It was a case of just doing the job we are all trained for," he said.

British Aerobatic Champion 1997/8,

Tim Barnby is a professional pilot, and a captain on Airbus A340s with Virgin Atlantic.

Married with one child, he has around 14,000 hours in types ranging from Glider to Boeing 707, B17, Spitfire and many others. Being the third generation pilot in his family, he describes flying as his work, his hobby, and indeed his one and only passion.

He started his aerobatic career by flying, then instructing in the Tiger Club’s Stampe, before progressing to competition in Pitts Specials and latterly the Sukhoi SU26 which he shares with British Team member, Nick Onn.

Crash investigators...

...discovered that a 4 inch metal pin belonging to the left braking system had worked loose during take-off and had become lodged in such a way as to keep the wheel-doors from opening.

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