WORRIED bystanders in Fulham have told of an 'almighty noise' when a stricken British Airways plane with smoke billowing from an engine flew over the borough on its way to making an emergency landing at Heathrow this morning.
The airbus A319 was on a flight out of Heathrow to Oslo, Norway, when, about 10 minutes after the 8.20am take-off, problems developed as the aircraft was flying over north-west London.
After declaring emergency, the pilots decided to return to Heathrow and flew over central London, suffering issues with one, and possibly both, engines.
A witness who lives near Stamford Bridge told Sky News: "All of a sudden we heard this almighty noise. It was like a fire jet going over. We could just see the right engine on fire - it was absolutely horrendous to see.
"You don't see things like that every day, it's incredible really."
Rob Brownell, 33, saw the plane from Imperial Wharf Overground station, and told the BBC: "There was this almighty rumbling overhead - I looked up and saw the plane on fire. There were flames coming not just from the engine but lapping the wing.
"My initial thought was 'my God this thing is going to blow up'. The wings are full of fuel so I couldn't see how there could not be an explosion.
"It left a black smoke trail in the sky and there was a smell of aviation fuel afterwards."
All 75 passengers were evacuated safely when the plane came into land about 25 minutes after departure. Early indications were that the aircraft suffered a bird strike but pictures show both engine covers missing, leading to speculation among pilots that the covers had not been attached properly and came off, possibly causing mechanical damage in the process.
Pez1 said on PPrune, the pilot's chat forum: "With both cowls missing from both engines, it looks like there's a strong possibility that the fan cowls weren't latched properly/if at all."
A spokesman for BA said it was investigating the 'engine technical fault'.
There have been previous incidents of engine covers separating from Airbus aircraft, most notably in 2004 on a Ryan International Airlines flight from Atlanta, America, to Orlando, after they weren't latched properly following maintenance, which wasn't noticed by pilots.
The cover was found seven miles from the airport.