A TRANSATLANTIC jet was forced to declare an emergency and divert to Shannon Airport late on Monday night after both the cockpit and passenger cabin filled with smoke.
British Airways flight BA239, with 221 passengers onboard, was travelling from London Heathrow to Boston.
The Boeing 777-200 jet was flying at 38,000 feet and was about 300 kilometres south-west of Shannon when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit, declared an emergency and requested permission to divert to Shannon.
During their descent towards Shannon, the crew contacted air traffic controllers again and reported that smoke had reached the passenger cabin and that it was getting increasingly worse.
While British Airways said the plane diverted because of a “technical problem”, emergency services dispatched to the scene were told that smoke was reported in the cockpit.
At Shannon, the airport’s fire and rescue services were mobilised while units of the local authority fire service from Shannon were also sent to the airport. Ambulances from Ennis and Limerick were also sent.
At 12.05am yesterday the aircraft touched down safely and was able to taxi to the terminal building closely pursued and monitored by emergency crews.
Passengers were ferried to the terminal building and all 221 of them were accommodated in local hotels overnight.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) of the Department of Transport could not say whether the incident was related to volcanic ash, only stating: “The AAIU is aware of the event and initial inquiries are being made.”
British Airways also declined to comment on the nature of the problem.
There was no report of ash from the Icelandic volcano in the area at the time the flight was passing through Irish airspace, although the cloud had extended south of Ireland early yesterday but below 20,000 feet. BA239 was flying at nearly twice that height at the time of its emergency.
“The nature of the technical issue is being investigated — we cannot prejudge an investigation,” the airline said.
One man, whose wife was on board the flight said: “She said that the smoke appeared in the cabin simultaneously from both the front and rear part of the aircraft and said that the outside of the aircraft looked charred after landing.
“It was not a very nice 25 minutes in the air for her.”
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