Farewell Flight Nearly Ended in Disaster

BA pilot whose quick reactions saved passengers after take-off fire was due to retire this week

Published: 10th September 2015 08:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2015 08:43 AM   |  A+A-

It was supposed to be one of his final flights, a 10-hour trip from Las Vegas to London before celebrating his retirement from a 42-year career with a holiday in Barbados.

But Capt Chris Henkey was thrust into action when a "catastrophic failure" on his BA Boeing 777-220 generated a massive fire that threatened the lives of more than 150 passengers.

Travelling at 90mph and just moments from take-off, he had seconds to avert disaster, stopping the plane and calling for help in a near-perfect execution of emergency protocol.

Within a few minutes, Mr Henkey and the 13-strong crew of BA flight 2276 had evacuated all 159 passengers on board, with 14 of those on board suffering minor injuries.

Mr Henkey, 63, told The Daily Telegraph: "I am very proud of the cabin crew and relieved everyone is OK."

The pilot's family declared he did a "bloody good job" to save all the passengers. He had been due to return home yesterday to the Berkshire village of Padworth, where he lives with his fiancee Lenka Nevlona, 40.

Ms Nevlona had planned to join him as he captained his last flight to Barbados on Friday, where they were hoping to join his 26-year-old daughter.

Ms Nevlona, an NHS worker, said yesterday: "I feel very proud. He is a hero. He is a great man with a warm heart and generosity. I was very shocked. I'm glad that no one was hurt and everything is going to be fine."

Charley Henkey, his daughter from a previous marriage, also spoke of the pride she felt for her father.

She told the Reading Chronicle: "I was just heading out for dinner with my best friend when I got a text from dad saying there had been a massive explosion on the plane but that he was OK. I couldn't sleep all night, because I was just waiting to get a call from him. I think the most emotional part is that I am just so proud of him."

The pilot, who also used to be the pub landlord of the Hatchgate Inn, in Reading, graduated from the College of Air Training in 1971 and has worked for British Airways for over four decades. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration added his name on to the Airmen Certification Database - a scheme which honours pilots who have "met or exceeded" the FAA's high educational, licensing and medical standards.

Several years ago, Mr Henkey was left badly disfigured when his sports car overturned. He spent months recovering from the car crash and was eventually declared fit to return to the cockpit.

Julian Bray, an aviation expert, described Mr Henkey and his crew's work as a "textbook emergency evacuation" and Jim McAuslin, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association, praised his calm reaction.

Dominic Worthington, a Briton who was on the plane when the fire broke out, described a "slight jolt, then a bang" before the plane came to a stop.

He told CBS News: "We had a matter of seconds before it could have escalated into something very serious."

Bruce Garner, 68, a former Boeing 777 pilot, said his friend would have gone into "automatic mode" when the disaster struck. He said: "There wouldn't have been any panic. All pilots are trained on exactly what to do."

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the machinery had been the subject of two Airworthiness Directives from American safety regulators.

Although it will take months for a definitive explanation for the fire to emerge, experts have suggested that the blaze was due to what is known as an uncontained engine failure.

"The GE90, including this -85B variant has been subject to various Airworthiness Directives, due to safety concerns about uncontained engine failures - which are a real danger to flight safety," said James Healy-Pratt, an aviation lawyer and qualified pilot.

British Airways said: "This incident is being investigated by the NTSB {the US National Transportation Safety Board] and we therefore cannot speculate as to the causes of what happened."

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