'Hero' British Airways captain hailed after engine fire on Las Vegas runway


The veteran captain of a London-bound British Airways plane has been hailed a "hero" for his response to an engine fire at a Las Vegas airport.

Investigations continue into what caused the left engine of the Boeing 777-200 to burst into flames on the runway at McCarran International Airport, forcing 157 passengers, 10 crew and three pilots to evacuate through emergency slides.

The captain was named as Chris Henkey, from Reading, Berkshire, who has four decades of flying experience with BA and is about to retire.

His fiancee, Lenka Nevolna, 40, said: "He's a hero. He's a great man with a warm heart, and generosity, and I'm very proud of him."

She said she was "very shocked" by what had happened and added: "I'm glad that no one's hurt and everything is going to be fine."

Asked if he is always so cool and calm, she said: "Yes, most of the time, and he's loved by everyone, we are very proud of him."

She did not have to worry if he had been involved in the incident, because he rang her to tell her about it, then she watched the news.

She confirmed he is about to retire, adding: "Unfortunately what happened, we couldn't have predicted."

His ex-wife Marnie, who is a former cabin crew member and with whom he has a daughter, expressed her relief that he and the rest of the crew got out safely.

"He is safe and happy," she told the Guardian. "I've had some messages from him. He did a bloody good job."

Fire officials said at least 14 people were taken to hospital with minor injuries, mostly caused by sliding down the inflatable chutes to escape.

The airport released a statement which said it was first alerted to the emergency at 4.13pm local time (12.13am BST) and within five minutes everyone was off the plane and the blaze was extinguished.

An audio recording which appears to be the conversation between the captain and air traffic control shows how efficiently the emergency was dealt with.

Speaking calmly and clearly, the pilot said: "Mayday, mayday, Speedbird 2276 request fire services."

The woman in the control tower immediately replied: "Heavy fire services on the way."

Forty seconds later the captain added: "We are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire. I repeat, we are evacuating."

According to reports the captain was applauded by passengers when he spoke to them in the safety of the terminal building.

BA would not confirm the identity of the captain but said he was "very experienced and has flown with British Airways for 42 years".

A spokeswoman for the airport said the passengers were evacuated "quickly and safely".

She went on: "We cannot express enough gratitude to the emergency response crews, as well as the British Airways crew."

The BA flight from Las Vegas was set to depart for the 10-hour flight to Gatwick when the crew noticed the fire.

BA issued a statement which said the plane "experienced a technical issue" and the crew "evacuated the aircraft safely".

The airline added it had provided hotel accommodation and was organising alternative flights for its 157 customers, while those who had been taken to hospital had since been discharged..

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the US said four investigators had been sent to examine the aircraft, including engine, systems and fire specialists.

BA would not reveal how many Britons were on the plane, although the Las Vegas to Gatwick route is popular with UK leisure travellers.

Jacob Steinberg, a Guardian sports reporter who was on the flight, said the captain told passengers there had been a "catastrophic" engine failure.

He tweeted: "Was asleep as the plane took off. Came to a crashing halt. Smell of smoke. Initially told to stay seated, then shout of evacuate.

"Could smell and see smoke but was on other side of plane. One person said fire melted a couple of windows.

"They opened the back door and slide went down and smoke started coming in plane, followed by mad dash to front. A lot of panic."

Boeing said in a statement that it was "prepared to provide technical assistance to the NTSB following today's incident".

McCarran is a major airport in the US, handling almost 43 million passengers a year.