Fifteen Hurt In Emergency Landing

A plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Gatwick Airport leaving 15 people in hospital.

Passengers suffered a range of injuries, including suspected fractures and cuts, as they escaped Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 using the emergency chutes.

Passenger Tom Aldridge said: "The people panicking as they were jumping off were throwing themselves out of the plane down the chute and there was a big pile of bodies at the bottom where people were just landing on top of each other and there were quite a few injuries.''

And fellow passenger Kirsty Bonwick told radio station LBC: "A lot of people were hurt scraping their arms and legs and elbows and bleeding... you think you're going to stop at the end of the chute and then get up, but you go flying off of it and you just went across the concrete, which is why everybody cut their arms and legs and were bleeding.''

There were reports of a small fire on board as the Florida-bound plane came in to land two hours after it had taken off just before 11am.

Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said the flight, carrying 301 adults and three children, was not far out of London when the technical alarms went off on the flight deck.

He said the captain made the decision to turn the aircraft around and fly back to Gatwick.

He said: "We carried out an emergency evacuation, which was the right thing to do.''

Dr Jane Pateman, South East Coast Ambulance Service medical director, said: "A total of 15 patients were transferred to hospital, 14 of which went to two major trauma centres, at St George's Hospital and Royal Sussex County Hospital, suffering from suspected fractures.''

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said it was called at 12.21pm to reports of a "small fire on board an aircraft'', which had made a full emergency landing.

Flights in and out of Gatwick were suspended from the time of the emergency landing until around 2pm, with a number of incoming flights diverted - some to Stansted airport in Essex.The passengers from flight VS27 to Orlando were looked after in a special reception area at Gatwick before being transferred to a nearby hotel.

Virgin Atlantic said that most of the passengers were intending to fly to Orlando tomorrow.

A Virgin spokesman: "Our teams at Gatwick are now offering full support, looking after our passengers and assisting with their immediate requirements.

"We are working closely with the authorities to establish the cause of this incident. The safety and welfare of our crew and passengers is our top priority.''

Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson said on Twitter: "Very sorry to all passengers on board VS27. The staff @virginatlantic are doing everything they can to look after everybody. More info soon.''

Mr Aldridge described how members of the cabin crew reacted with alarm. He said: "There was quite a lot of high-pitched screaming, sounding very panicky, very concerned, and I thought that a couple of passengers were a little bit crazy and just needed to calm down.

"It wasn't until I had to go closer to the door that I realised it was actually Virgin cabin crew that were screaming hysterically, 'Get off, get off, get off as quick as you can, get off'.''

Lorna Willson, 23, who works in a building that overlooks the runway, said she saw the immediate aftermath of the landing.

She went on: "I was just eating my lunch and I noticed the plane. They usually take off quite quickly but this one didn't go anywhere.

"Then I realised all the chutes were out and there were lots of fire engines and police.

"I think the passengers had been taken off, but you could see a few stewardesses. There was quite a lot of emergency services there.''

Mr Ridgeway added: "The passengers have been here during the day and as soon as they got off the aircraft they spoke to the police to tell them what went on, and they are now either going home or some of them are staying here and travelling tomorrow.

"We have got teams looking after them and Gatwick Airport has also been giving us some help.''

He said an investigation would take place and added that aviation safety was of paramount importance.

He said: "Safety is the number one priority and the team at Virgin Atlantic will be co-operating with the AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Branch) to find out what happened.''

Mr Ridgway said the aircraft involved was about a year old.

He added: "I think as a precautionary measure in this situation this is what the training is about, in terms of making sure that security and safety of our passengers and crew is there.''

He said some of the passengers were on their way to hotels and that there would be flexibility when it came to what they wanted to do next.

Mr Ridgway said: "They were remarkably good. I think they were very complimentary about how they had been looked after by the crew. They asked me to thank them, the captain and the ground staff here.''