The pilots of a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Doha declared an emergency just minutes after takeoff on Friday afternoon and diverted straight back to Heathrow, where the aircraft was met by emergency services after fumes reportedly filled the cockpit.
The emergency was deemed to be so serious that rather than burning off excess fuel prior to landing back at Heathrow, the pilots performed an almost 360-degree turn over South London and landed just 15 minutes after departure.
The 23-year-old Boeing 777-200 (registration: G-YMMI) was then able to taxi to a remote stand where it was checked out by engineers and the passengers were eventually allowed off and taken back inside the airport terminal.
In a statement, a spokesperson for British Airways said flight BA123 had to return to Heathrow due to a “technical issue” and that emergency services met the aircraft after arrival solely as a precautionary measure.
“The aircraft returned to London Heathrow as a precaution due to a technical issue and landed normally,” the airline told us in an emailed statement. “We’ve apologised to our customers for the disruption to their journey and our teams are working hard to get them on their way as soon as possible.”
British Airways did not confirm the nature of the technical issue, but the popular Flight Emergency account on X reported that the diversion was due to ‘fumes’ in the cockpit.
Earlier this year, two British Airways flights between London Heathrow and New York JFK were cancelled in the space of just two days after separate reports of what has been described by several sources as “funny smells” onboard.
One of the two flights had just taken off when the pilots reported an unusual smell in the flight deck, resulting in a decision to dump fuel over the Atlantic Ocean before returning to JFK, where the plane could be checked over by emergency services and engineers.
That incident involved a 25-year-old Boeing 777-200, while the second incident involved a much newer Boeing 777-300.
In 2019, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) issued a special bulletin following a ‘serious incident’ in which fumes were detected in the cockpit of an 11-year-old Boeing 777-200 operated by British Airways.
Pilots had reported fumed-like events on the same aircraft five times in just two months, forcing them to don their oxygen masks and start working through an emergency checklist.
Extensive engineering checks never established the cause of the fumes.
Last month, a full-scale emergency was declared at Heathrow after a similar fume event on an Airbus A320 aircraft, which resulted in some of the cabin crew being ordered to strip off their uniforms.
A fire brigade spokesperson said at the time that no elevated readings of anything suspicious were detected following a full chemical sweep of the aircraft.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.