As storms buffet the UK, footage has emerged of a pilot pulling off a particularly challenging landing – but not before the plane appeared to nearly topple over and scrape its tail on the runway.
British Airways flight 1307 traveled from Aberdeen to London on Monday – but the 80-minute flight had a bumpy ride at the end.
Coming in to land at Heathrow, the plane – an Airbus A321neo – was visibly buffeted by winds, before touching down on one wheel, bouncing up and down again, tipping precariously over to the left, and then appearing to knock the runway with the tail as the pilots aborted the landing and performed a go-around, taking off again in order to land safely.
Jerry Dyer, who filmed the dramatic landing, told CNN that the event “just goes to show how skilled pilots are.”
A regular at Heathrow, where he films planes landing and taking off for his YouTube channel Big Jet TV, he had arrived only minutes earlier.
Although the UK has been battered by the 90 mph winds of Storm Corrie, which have claimed two people’s lives and left many without power, Dyer said the wind at Heathrow wasn’t actually too bad – he estimates around 20 mph – but it was a gust funneling between two buildings and hitting the runway that nearly toppled the plane.
Flight trackers show the plane reaching ground level at 140 mph just before midday, before steeply climbing to an altitude of 1,173 meters (3,850 feet) in four minutes.
It landed for the second time 16 minutes later. It has not been confirmed whether the tail did actually strike the ground, or just seemed to.
Dyer stayed three hours filming and saw one other plane do a go-around, as well as plenty struggling with the gusts.
Go-arounds – where the descending plane goes up again, to make another attempt – and “balked landings,” where the pilot makes a go-around just as they’re touching down, are perfectly safe.
“A balked landing is an easy, safe maneuver, and it’s the thing to do whenever you think it’s appropriate,” Dann Runik, executive director of advanced programs at FlightSafety International, previously told CNN.
Although that doesn’t make them comfortable for those on board.
Two of the passengers were members of the UK Parliament, traveling from their constituencies to the House of Commons, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson would later see his premiership take an equally visible buffeting.
Richard Thomson, MP for Gordon, in northeast Scotland, told CNN that he owes the pilot “deep gratitude for their professionalism and calm in how they dealt with what was a potentially very dangerous situation.”
At first, everything seemed normal, he said.
“While there was a harder than usual touchdown at first, it was when the plane came down for a second time that it appeared to be caught by a strong gust of wind.
“It was clear that the pilot had to decide quickly whether to try and steady the plane to make the landing or to abort. Fortunately, they were able to accelerate out of the situation to make a second approach.
“While it looked like the left wing was close to clipping the runway, it was only after seeing the video that we saw the tail had actually struck the runway,” Thomson said.
“It didn’t feel especially dramatic onboard and everyone stayed calm, but it’s clear now how close we came to a serious incident.
“Clearly we all noticed that we hadn’t managed to land and felt the wind, but the skill of the pilot probably meant that it was only really those with a view on the left of the plane who were really able to tell how close to clipping the ground the wing was.”
Dyer– who rushes straight to Heathrow every time there’s bad weather, often going viral with his videos – told CNN he’d give the pilot “10 out of 10” for their “split second decision.”
And he said that for avgeeks, watching planes in “windy or stormy conditions” is “a lot more exciting” than seeing them in normal conditions.
“It’s the battle – forces of nature against an alloy tube with wings on it that we have to control onto the ground,” he said. “It’s a fantastic thing to watch.”
He stayed for a further three hours, but didn’t see anything as dramatic as the Aberdeen landing.
A spokesperson for British Airways told CNN: “Our pilots are highly trained to manage a range of scenarios, including extreme weather conditions, and our flight crew landed the aircraft safely. Our customers and crew all disembarked as normal.”
And not only did they disembark normally, but they did so eight minutes ahead of schedule – finally touching down at 12.17 p.m.
Stephen Flynn, the other politician on the flight, tweeted afterwards: “Can confirm this was not enjoyable.”