British Airways pilots were praised after safely landing a smoke-trailing plane on which both engines appeared damaged.
Passengers on the Airbus A319 described how “big flames” were seen coming from the right-hand engine as the Oslo-bound plane returned to Heathrow.
A picture taken from inside the plane also showed an engine cover on the left-hand engine had come loose, indicating that that engine, too, had been damaged – possibly by a birdstrike, which could also have affected the other engine.
Pictures of the plane taken on the ground after the five crew and 75 passengers had been evacuated down emergency chutes also showed the left-hand engine exposed. Three people were treated for minor injuries.
Both runways at Heathrow were shut for a time after the incident and BA cancelled all short-haul flights until 4pm yesterday, affecting travel plans of thousands of people flying off for the bank holiday weekend and half-term holidays.
Eyewitnesses described seeing smoke billowing from the plane as it returned to Heathrow at around 8.30am.
Passenger David Gallagher, told BBC News: “About eight or nine minutes into the flight there was a loud popping sound.
“There was some concern from passengers – people gasping and louder exclamations. The captain came on very calmly, said he was going to run some tests.
“Then five minutes after that there was a loud sound, and this time the right engine was clearly on fire. I mean, big flames, very visible from the rest of the cabin and lots of black smoke.
“There was no disruption to the flight at all, even when it was clear we were down to one engine.
“A few passengers were upset understandably, especially those on the right side of the plane. The cabin crew and the ground crew were outstanding and completely calm, reassuring and professional during the whole incident.”
Both the northern and southern runways at Heathrow were closed after the incident, although flights were able to resume shortly afterwards from the southern runway.
A BA statement said: “The aircraft landed safely and cabin crew evacuated customers using emergency slides.”
The airline has begun a full investigation and is working with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch to establish the cause.
Heathrow chief operating officer Normand Boivin said: “I would like to pay tribute to BA’s pilots and crew and Heathrow’s fire and airside teams.”
BA had been due to handle 128,000 passengers yesterday.