3:20pm Monday 16th April 2012
© Press Association 2013
Four passengers were injured when a Virgin Atlantic plane had to make a full emergency landing at Gatwick Airport with reports of a small fire on board.
The travellers, who suffered minor injuries, were among 229 passengers on the Florida-bound Airbus A330 which had left Gatwick at 10.48am.
The plane returned to Gatwick and, due to what Virgin described as "a technical problem", the captain decided as a precautionary measure to evacuate the aircraft immediately. Virgin said that all passengers and the 13 crew were safely disembarked and there had been "four minor injuries".
Flights in and out of Gatwick were suspended from the time of the emergency landing until around 2pm, with a number of incoming flights diverted - some to Stansted Airport in Essex. Gatwick warned that it was operating a reduced service and some passengers could expect some knock-on disruptions and delays.
Virgin Atlantic's president, Sir Richard Branson, tweeted: "Very sorry to all passengers on board VS27. The staff @virginatlantic are doing everything they can to look after everybody. More info soon."
Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said the flight, carrying 301 adults and three children, was not far out of London when the technical alarms went off on the flight deck. He said the captain made the decision to turn the aircraft around and fly back to Gatwick. An investigation would take place, he added.
Mr Ridgway said: "They were remarkably good. I think they were very complimentary about how they had been looked after by the crew. They asked me to thank them, the captain and the ground staff here."
Passenger Tom Aldridge told the BBC: "There was one announcement over the Tannoy asking cabin crew to make their way to the front of the plane. About five minutes after that, we were told by the captain that we would be turning around and making an emergency landing back at Gatwick."
Mr Aldridge described the subsequent evacuation effort as panicked, saying: "There was quite a lot of high-pitched screaming sounding very panicky, very concerned, and I thought that a couple of passengers were a little bit crazy and just needed to calm down. It wasn't until I had to go closer to the door that I realised it was actually Virgin cabin crew that were screaming hysterically 'Get off, get off, get off as quick as you can, get off'."
Dr Jane Pateman, medical director of the South East Coast Ambulance Service, said: "A total of 15 patients were transferred to hospital, 14 of which went to two major trauma centres, at St George's Hospital and Royal Sussex County Hospital, suffering from suspected fractures."
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