Sheffield man hails ‘hero’ pilot after successfully grounding flight after it developed landing gear problems

Close up of the landing gear of a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet landing at Gatwick airport after the plane developed a landing-gear fault.
Close up of the landing gear of a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet landing at Gatwick airport after the plane developed a landing-gear fault.
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A Sheffield man has hailed the ‘hero’ pilot who successfully grounded his flight to Las Vegas after it developed landing gear problems.

Shaun Littler, one of 462 people on board the Virgin Atlantic flight from London Gatwick to Las Vegas, said he panicked after first hearing the pilot would have to make an emergency landing.

Pilot David Williams – who was forced to circle for three hours before dumping fuel – instructed passengers to adopt the brace position as he landed the Boeing 747 jumbo jet back at Gatwick with just three sets of wheels deployed.

Shaun, of Handsworth, said: “We’d been in the air about 45 minutes when the captain said ‘I have some bad news’. He told us there was a problem with the landing gears and would have to perform an emergency landing.

“I panicked thinking it meant a crash landing, but we were reassured by the flight crew the plane would still land safely.

“We worked out the pilot would have to land with one set of wheels missing, but first he tried everything he could to fix the problem, like swerving the plane up and down and left and right.

“Then the order came to adopt the brace position and he somehow landed the plane.

“We came in at an angle and took a bounce before hitting the ground again, and everyone on board cheered in relief.”

Shaun, who took a later flight to America with friends for his holiday, said: “The pilot’s performance was heroic and the Virgin crew really looked after us.”

Dad-of-three Mr Williams, who has more than 20 years of flying experience, said: “I was only doing my job.”

But Shaun, aged 24, a hotel receptionist in Manchester, said: “It was only when I turned my phone on and got a panicked text from my girlfriend, that I realised how serious it could have been.”

Caroline Oatway, Shaun’s girlfriend, aged 23, said: “Shaun’s stepdad, David Metcalfe, called and told me not to panic, but to turn on the news. I saw the headline and the photos of the plane but it took a minute to register.

“Then I recognised the flight number and realised Shaun was on that plane.

“I could only focus on the words ‘landing gear problem’ on screen and a million questions went through my head.

“I knew I couldn’t contact Shaun and that he’d be panicking. He isn’t the most confident flyer anyway and I cannot begin to imagine what was going through the minds of the passengers as they were circling.”