( dpa ) - The 150 passengers and crew of a British Airways (BA) Boeing 777 had a lucky escape Thursday during a dramatic crash-landing at London's Heathrow airport in which 19 people suffered minor injuries.
Experts said disaster was narrowly avoided when the massive plane, coming in on a long-haul flight from Beijing, crash-landed at a speed of 160-kilometres-an-hour and came down just metres short of the runway.
Scotland Yard said the incident involving flight BA038 from Beijing was not terror-related. A chartered BA Boeing 747 due to fly Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Beijing for an official visit was held up because of the incident.
One of Heathrow's two runways was closed as a result, leading to delays, diversions and flight cancellations. An air exclusion zone was imposed to help regulate traffic at one of the world's busiest airports.
As passengers spoke of a "lucky escape" via the plane's emergency chutes, BA declined to comment on a BBC report that the jet had lost power and avionics in the approach to Heathrow.
An airport worker, who remained anonymous, said he was told that the aircraft had lost all power and that the pilot, "lifting its nose up," had glided it across a busy road and heavy-populated areas of west London before crash-landing just inside the perimeter fence.
"It was a miracle. The pilot deserves a medal," the airport employee told the BBC.
"It is a near-miracle that neither passengers or anyone on the ground has been seriously injured," said John McDonnell, the local member of parliament.
Eyewitnesses said the plane had "tilted violently" in the air and came down just inside a perimeter fence separating the airport from a busy dual carriageway.
The plane's undercarriage collapsed on impact, piercing one of the aircraft's wings and causing a set of landing wheels to come off.
Fire crews and ambulances were immediately on the scene, dousing the plane in foam to prevent it catching fire.
Passengers said there had been no warning but there was "no panic" on board as oxygen masks dropped down and the crew led them to safety in an orderly evacuation.
"I feel I won the lottery today," said passenger Fernando Prado about his lucky escape.
Others said they felt it was "just a bumpy landing" before realizing the full extent of what had happened.
Officials said that 19 passengers, including Britons and Chinese citizens, were being treated in hospital for minor injuries and shock.
BA chief Willie Walsh, while praising the crew for doing an "excellent job," declined to comment on the possible cause of the accident, which will be probed by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
Aviation expert Kieran Daly from Flight International magazine said he was shocked by the incident.
"The 777 is pretty much state of the art at the moment, we are talking about one of the most advanced aircraft in the world," he said.
"It's very difficult to understand what might have gone wrong. It's quite a surprise," Daly said.
Eyewitness Neal Jones, who has a general aviation pilot's licence, said the plane had been making a "very, very unusual approach," and the engine sounded louder than normal.
"The aircraft was banking to the left and it was coming in very low over the surrounding houses. The plane was significantly lower than it would normally be," he told the BBC.
"You could see the pilot was desperate, trying to get the plane down. The aircraft hit the grass and there was a lot of dirt. The pilot was struggling to keep the plane straight. He did a great job," said Jones.
Another witness said the Boeing had come in at a "funny angle," and, with its undercarriage down, had slid along the grass in a "plume of smoke."
The plane had hit the ground with a "big impact and a loud noise."
A taxi driver said the plane was flying so low "you would think you could touch it."
The six-year-old Boeing was immediately surrounded by emergency vehicles, including fire engines and ambulances as passengers were led to a reception centre.
The plane carrying Brown and his entourage, including top businessmen, journalists and Olympic gold medallist Kelly Holmes, left Heathrow for Beijing after a delay of several hours. dpa at cc