How do you cope under pressure?

Watch the video below (2:49), it is the Air Traffic Control recording from the Boeing 777 that crashed short of the runway at Heathrow in 2009.

Having suffered ice crystals in the fuel system, the plane lost power as it came into land at Heathrow, giving the pilots less than a minute to react and eventually crashed short of the runway. All the passengers and crew walked away from the crash with only minor injuries.

What is impressive here is the reaction of the Air Traffic Controller.


The Mayday call is received shortly before the crash happens at 0:43 seconds into the video. ‘Speedbird’ is the callsign used by British Airways planes.

Speedbird 229 hold position…

The ATC orders another British Airways plane, still on the ground, to hold position.

…Aircraft accident…Aircraft accident…

He initiates an emergency service response.

…the position is the threshold of runway two seven left..aircraft is a triple seven. Nature of problem is crash…aircraft has crashed. Rendezvous point is south.

and switches to a checklist to provide the details the emergency services need.

This is the captain…this is an emergency. Evacuate. Evacuate.

Transmitted on ATC sir, fire service on the way.

The crashed plane’s captain makes his evacuate announcement on the ATC frequency rather than the on-board PA. The ATC informs him (politely!) of this and tells him the fire service are on their way.

Qatari 011 go around, I say again, go around, acknowledge

He orders the next plane due to land, a Qatari Airways flight, to go around again.

Heathrow Tower Priority Fire Two at Two Seven Left November Four Whisky. Entry onto runway?

Fire Two enter Runway 27L.

Fire Two is on the runway. Can confirm chutes have been deployed.

Copied sir.

The Fire Service request entry to the runway, the ATC grants it then receives their initial report.

Speedbird 479 Are you with me?

Affirm, 479

Speedbird 479, make a visual switch to to two seven right if you can now

He then gets the third aircraft in line, British Airways Flight 479 to do a visual switch to runway 27R.



We’ve had an aircraft crash on the threshold of two seven left. We need to switch everything to two seven right and stop things coming in for the time being.



He make a call to the Heathrow Approach ATC to close runway 27L and switch all future arrivals to runway 27R.

Checker, did you say enter two seven left?

Seagull, affirm.

Seagull enter two seven left.

Seagull entered

Seagull is Heathrow’s bird control unit, whose job it is to keep the number of birds on the airport to a minimum to reduce the risk of ingestion into engines, bad for both the bird and the plane. They also perform more general operations and the ATC clears them to enter the runway to attend to the crashed plane.

All stations enter 27L

With the runway closed the ATC finally clears all those units that need to to enter the runway.

That’s conversations with eight different people and initiating something in the region of 20 actions and he does all this in almost exactly 2 minutes.

A testament to training and a cool head under pressure.