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East Lancashire airline pilot hailed as a hero
9:00am Saturday 10th August 2013 in News
DARWEN dad John Hibbitt has hailed his airline pilot son Bill a hero for bringing his Jumbo Jet down safely twice in 24 hours after problems following take off - and then facing his scared and furious passengers in person.
The 48-year-old British Airways captain found himself having to turn his Boeing 747 round in mid-air and return it to King Khalid International airport in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh after its wing flaps jammed on Wednesday.
After checks and maintenance, the London-bound flight with 300 passengers took off again the following day.
But the problem re-occurred and Bill had to bring the plane back to ground again.
By then more than 50 furious travellers were ready to stage a sit-down protest about their ‘terrifying’ experience in temperatures of 50C (122F) .
The captain then spoke to the passengers, some of whom had been physically sick as the plane circled over the desert dumping fuel, to explain what had happened in person.
John, aged 76, and his wife Doris, of Beech Grove, Darwen told how proud they were of their son as a replacement jet brought him, his crew and passengers safely back to Heathrow yesterday.
He said: “We are really proud of Bill. He was a hero who saved those passengers lives.
“And then, like the man he is, he want and spoke to those understandably irate travellers to explain what he had done and why.
“BA is a fabulous airline which had trained him really well.
“He’s been flying 747s for more than 20 years and this has never happened to him. He goes in a simulator every six months and when this does happen, he handles it brilliantly.”
Doris, also 76, said: “He was brave and heroic, but that’s just the man he is.”
They told how Bill, married with a teenage daughter and living in Hove, had wanted to be a pilot since the age of 12.
Doris said: “He always wanted to fly and had a pilot’s licence with the help of the RAF at 17 before he had a driving licence.
“He absolutely loves his job.”
After attending Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Blackburn, he did history at Kings College, London, before signing up for 18 months training in Prestwick in Scotland and winning the Lord King Trophy as best graduate from the pilot academy in 1989.
He became a 747 captain ten years ago, flying right across the world including regular transatlantic flights to and from America.
One airline industry source said: “This did not become a full-blown emergency but it was exemplary flying by a well-trained pilot. Going to talk to the angry passengers himself was exactly what BA trains its captains to do.”
One passenger Dean Jones said: “We were furious they put us back up in the plane when they knew there was a serious problem. We were circling over the desert with fuel streaming out. There was screaming and crying.”
A BA spokesman said: "We apologise to customers for their experience.
“Engineers had repaired the aircraft, but unfortunately the fault recurred and the aircraft was forced to return.
“The safety of our customers and crew is always our first concern.
“Our crew and customer service teams did everything they could to care for customers, and we provided overnight hotel accommodation."
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