A pilot who landed an airliner with no nose gear has been praised for his ‘superb’ skills and avoiding a fire.
Fifty three Flybe passengers including an infant survived virtually unscathed following the dramatic incident at Belfast International Airport.
One was taken to hospital with a thumb strain but discharged soon afterwards.
A massive emergency operation had swung into place involving police, fire and ambulance crews but the diverted flight from Belfast City Airport to Inverness landed safely shortly after 1pm on Friday, an airport spokesman said.
Belfast International operations director Alan White said: “It was a very good landing.
“The flying skills, landing the aircraft, were superb.”
The Bombardier Q-400 had taken off shortly after 11am on Friday but the fault was quickly detected.
Passengers onboard flight BE331 endured a tense two-hour wait circling above the Irish Sea as the pilot burned off fuel while crews on the ground prepared for the emergency landing.
Mr White added: “It became very obvious when it was on approach that the nose wheel was not down so we knew that it was going to be a difficult landing.”
The runway had been closed to other aircraft.
“The flight deck crew were superb, they landed on the main undercarriage, they held the nose of the aircraft up to the last possible moment, bleeding off all the air speed and still keeping control and just dropping it at the very last minute.
“That meant it stopped relatively quickly, no issues, no fire with it, and they got it stopped safely on the runway.”
Landing without nose gear is “a very difficult manoeuvre”, according to Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa.
He said: “The pilots in this case appear to have done a sterling job of bringing the aircraft back under those circumstances.”
Mr White said fire crews were on the scene immediately to assist in evacuating the aircraft.
The emergency response went “extremely smoothly”.
“There were a significant number of units because of the serious potential nature of the incident, so they were all on site by the time the aircraft was landing and it all went very smoothly thankfully.”
Photographs from the scene show the aircraft tipped forward and resting on its nose, with fire brigade vehicles nearby.
Belfast International Airport said “full emergency procedures” were deployed.
A spokeswoman for Flybe said the airline was sending a specialist team to Belfast to offer assistance and it would do all it could to understand the cause of this incident.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it was sending a team to the airport to investigate the incident.
A spokeswoman for Antrim Area Hospital said the passenger had since been discharged.