Virgin Atlantic has been unlucky with its timing, but otherwise fortunate, in that a high visibility emergency evacuation of one of its Airbus A330-300s at London’s Gatwick Airport overnight only resulted in a reported total of 15 people suffering minor injuries.
The airline has denied initial reports that a fire in a rear cargo hold broke out in a flight carrying 312 passengers and crew to Orlando, Florida, and which returned for whatever reason to the airport almost two hours after it left.
The evacuation has been reported as orderly but did involve the deployment of some slides, and as is normal, slide evacuations often lead to broken limbs or fractures, and bring out the other side of cabin attendants, which is to get people out of an aircraft and away from it with urgency because of the risk of fire or explosion.
Gatwick is London’s 2nd largest airport after Heathrow, but has only one runway, which was closed for 90 minutes, causing many diversions, mostly to Stansted, London’s 3rd airport.
Virgin Atlantic is due to reveal its new Upper Class Business cabin this weekend, meaning the incident last night is going to be an unwelcome coincidence, even though the airline appears to have been exemplary in carrying out its safety obligations at Gatwick.
This is the third high profile emergency evacuation in recent months, even though the Qantas QF32 A380 emergency at Singapore Airport in November 2010 is still in the public mind, and favourably, given the successful outcome in what was a very serious in-flight crisis caused by the disintegration of one of the giant jet’s engines shortly after takeoff.
In November a LOT Polish Boeing 767 made a spectacular but safe wheels up emergency landing at Warsaw Airport on a foam covered runway. Social media carried numerous graphic videos of the conduct of the emergency in flight, during the fiery slide down the runway, and of people diving through the exits.
In December a Cathay Pacific 747-400 was involved in an evacuation at Shanghai most notable for that fact that no shopping was left behind. It was, to be be fair, a less serious emergency than that experienced by LOT Polish or Virgin Atlantic.