THIS packed Heathrow jumbo jet was at the centre of a terrifying mid-air scare yesterday after a door failed to shut properly on take-off.Passengers and cabin crew battled to hang on to the handle of the the rear door at 1,500 feet above London.
The pilot aborted the flight and swung the plane round for an emergency landing, flying low over hundreds of homes.
Fears of a full-scale disaster increased when flames were seen belching from the New York-bound aircraft's engines as it made its approach.
It had a full load of fuel on board - the pilot had no chance to jettison it over the sea for safety.
A source on board the low-flying aircraft - caught on camera above by a horrified eye-witness - said: "It was absolutely terrifying. The scene was like something out of a movie.
The drama began just a few minutes after take-off at 9.20am when flight BA117 bound for JFK with 296 passengers on board was at 1,500 feet above south west London.
A light in the cockpit suddenly alerted the pilot there was a problem with Door 5 at the rear left hand side of the plane. He warned cabin crew who discovered that the large handle that secures it was loose and moving around.
Alarmed passengers dashed to help the crew try to secure the door handle on to a latch.
Meanwhile the pilot made the decision to abandon the flight and head back as quicky as possible to Heathrow at low altitude because of the threat to cabin pressure caused by the unsealed door.
Passenger Hannah Evershed said: "I fly a lot for work and I knew we were flying too low. I was nervous. I was with my fiance and he saw smoke under the wing."
On the ground below photographer Peter Luckhurst spotted the jumbo in distress as he watched his son play football near Surbiton, Surrey. "I thought it was way too low," he said. "It was no more than 800 feet and at times it could have been as low as 500. I could tell it was in trouble."
It must have been a terrifying ordeal for the passengers
The plane was only airborne for 11 minutes so the pilot had no time to unload his fuel tank before landing. Emergency services scrambled to the runway as the jet touched down with flames shooting out of two of the engines.
But they extinguished themselves as it slowed down. Last night an investigation was launched into why the door handle was loose.
A source said: "Somebody is going to be in big trouble for this. But the pilot did an excellent job safely landing the plane with a full load.
"It must have been a terrifying ordeal for the passengers. They weren't to know the door wouldn't fly open during the flight."
A BA spokeswoman said last night the could not have opened because of the air pressure.
She said: "The handle on the door was not secured on the latch and it was reported moving. Some passengers did help members of the cabin crew to help secure the handle. At no stage was the door open.
"The pilot made the decision to fly back to Heathrow as a precaution. We have arranged for replacement flights for passengers to take them to their destination.
"The flames that were seen were caused by a combination of the heavy landing load and the maximum reverse thrust. An investigation has been launched and the plane will undergo a full assessment."
A spokesman for Heathrow said: "The emergency services attended the scene and were stood down once the passengers were in the terminal."
Risk of being sucked from jetAN aviation expert last night warned that passengers could have been "sucked out" if the door had flown open at cruising height.
But Julian Bray added: "The pilot did the right thing in following safety procedure. The worst case scenario is a depressurisation and the door opening up. This is rare but it can happen and the pilot can not take any chances.
"But landing a plane with a full fuel load always carries the risk of fire, that is why pilots often offload fuel over the sea."