Jumbo jet packed with British tourists seconds from disaster after it fails to rise on take-off

Hundreds of passengers narrowly avoided disaster when their plane nearly crashed after taking off.

The British Airways plane shook violently and did not rise more than 30ft above the ground as it set off from Johannesburg to London.

The pilot has been praised for his quick actions in keeping the Boeing 747 in the air, saving the lives of the 256 passengers on board.

Travelling at 200mph, he dumped enough fuel for the aircraft to eventually gain height, before returning it to the airport.

It is believed that a technical fault caused the plane to go into landing mode so that the flaps that normally make it rise did not work.

An investigation is under way as to how the jet came so close to crashing.

A BA spokesman said: 'As a precaution BA56 Johannesburg to Heathrow flight on Monday May 11 returned to the airport shortly after take-off due to a suspected technical problem.

'The Boeing 747 aircraft with 256 passengers on board landed safely and the customers disembarked as normal into the airport.

'We are cooperating fully with the South African aviation safety authority's investigation into the flight.'

Referring to the pilot's quick actions, he added: 'Our crews are trained extensively to deal with all eventualities.'

In June last year, a BA plane travelling from Beijing crash-landed short of a runway at Heathrow, ripping off its undercarriage. All passengers and crew escaped.

Last week it emerged that BA lost more than £400million in the year up to March - its worst result since the airline was privatised more than two decades ago.

In 2007-08, the carrier achieved a record profit but it was caught in a vicious squeeze between falling demand, as the recession took hold, and a huge rise in fuel costs in the wake of last year's oil price surge.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the airline planned to get rid of more than 100 pilots because of a huge fall in passenger numbers.

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