by A21 Reporter Andy Clems
There were hair-raising scenes in the skies above Reykjavik Airport yesterday afternoon when a TransGlobal Delta 474 Airliner suffered a critical landing gear malfunction on approach to the airport.
Captain Gelsthorpe radioed the control tower and stated his intention to land using emergency procedure, but this was vetoed by Reykjavik’s chief controller due to poor viability and unusually rough weather conditions. Captain Gelsthorpe, a seasoned veteran with 25 years flying experience, recognized the risks and sent out a general distress call to International Rescue.
The TransGlobal flight was allocated an emergency holding pattern and kept in regular contact with the tower controller. Although the 474 aircraft is designed for long range travel, the relatively short journey from London Airport to Reykjavik requires minimal fuel and it soon became apparent that the supply was starting to run low.
The Captain had barely reported on the fuel situation when International Rescue appeared on the scene in Thunderbirds 1 and 2. While Thunderbird 1 set up an operational base in the airport control tower, Thunderbird 2 rendezvoused with the stricken airliner and took up formation below it.
Captain Gelsthorpe recalls “It was darned impressive flying, those guys got really close to us. If it had been anyone else I might have been worried, but they’re pros and they know what they’re doing. Next thing I know they’re calling me on the radio and asking me to open number three inspection hatch.”
Chief Controller Jacklin heard the exchange between the International Rescue field commander and the pilot of the rescue craft. “The idea was that they were going to put a man aboard the Delta to try and fix the trouble, but there was very little time. It seemed like everything was against them, what with the fuel level critical. The weather got out of control pretty fast too. We had to send them up to 50,000 feet just to clear the worst of it. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the guy who made the transfer, he must have been close to being torn apart by those freak winds.”
Mrs Ballard of Foxley Heath was seated on the port side of the aircraft and witnessed the dare-devil stunt. “There was a cable attached to the wing near my window and a man in blue overalls was coming up the cable on a kind of platform. When he was about half way up the plane hit some bad turbulence and he was nearly thrown clear. My heart was in my mouth! But somehow he held on and managed to make it the rest of the way. About ten minutes later he came back out of the hatch and went down the cable again and that’s when the pilot told us we were going to be land. Everyone cheered, I’ll never forget it.”
International Rescue remained at the scene until the Delta arrived safely at the terminal, then Thunderbird 1 blasted off and left with Thunderbird 2, heading towards the horizon as the storm began to clear. On behalf of the passengers and crew, we thank International Rescue for their heroic efforts.