Pilot recalls Leeds United emergency landing

image copyrightPA
image captionCaptain John Hackett said: "Our first thoughts were it was a bomb"

The pilot of a plane carrying a top-flight football team has recalled how his emergency landing saved his passengers.

Captain John Hackett prevented disaster in 1998, landing his plane safely at Stansted Airport after an engine exploded with Leeds United on board.

He defied protocol and brought the aircraft down at the end of the runway immediately after taking off.

Mr Hackett said: "Not a day goes by without it crossing my mind."

The Leeds team was flying home at about 23:30 BST on 30 March 1998, after losing 3-0 to West Ham United in the Premiership.

Mr Hackett, now 81, said: "The whole night sky lit up. Our first thoughts were it was a bomb."

He said he made an "instant decision" to land the HS748 turbo-prop back on the runway.

Bryn Law, who was aboard after commentating on the match for the BBC, remembered: "The engine was fully ablaze. There was a major problem.

"We hit the ground and bounced and just caught the edge of the runway."

image copyrightPA
image captionThe Leeds United team was returning from a match at West Ham
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDavid O'Leary, then Leeds assistant manager, said at the time: "We're just glad to be out alive"

The Emerald Airlines plane came to a stop "within feet" of the M11 motorway, he said.

The commentator, who was sitting next to former Leeds United player Norman Hunter, said: "We both got out of the front door and legged it."

As flames spread, all 40 passengers including 18 Leeds players and four crew, evacuated. Only two people were slightly injured.

Mr Law said once a headcount had been carried out "we realised everybody had got off it."

In 2001 an Air Accidents Investigation Branch report found "the commander's decision to land the aircraft immediately on the runway remaining was sensible in the circumstances".

Mr Hackett retired three years after the landing at Stansted.

He said it had been "outside the normal training we do for emergencies" and in three similar previous incidents "everybody perished".

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