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Concorde passengers arrive in London at the speed of a bus

By Associated Press
Published September 19, 2003

LONDON - They took off from New York on the world's fastest passenger jet and pulled into London's Heathrow Airport nearly half a day later - on a bus.

Things started to go really wrong on the $6,600-a-seat Concorde with a frightening backfire over the Atlantic Ocean. Before it all was over, the plane had dropped from supersonic to subsonic speed, was running out of fuel and made an unscheduled landing in Wales.

Things got off to a bumpy start in New York for Wednesday's British Airways flight. The departure from Kennedy Airport was delayed for an hour by a faulty light.

Then, three-quarters of the way into the trans-Atlantic flight, the Concorde experienced an "engine surge," meaning the flow of air through one of its engines was disrupted, causing it to backfire.

"There was a bang like we'd hit a brick wall, and then the pilot came on saying something like we'd lost an engine," passenger Patricia Ayearst said.

The plane, a favored method of trans-Atlantic travel for pop stars and business tycoons, was traveling at a supersonic speed of 1,300 mph over the Atlantic Ocean when the engine problem occurred. The pilot immediately slowed the plane to subsonic speed.

"Glass and plates were flying and people were screaming. It was very scary," passenger Danny Ferris said.

The Concorde was forced to fly at subsonic speeds for the rest of the flight, but because that uses more fuel than supersonic speed, the plane had to land at Cardiff International Airport in Wales.

Passengers, who had each paid at least $6,585 for the trip, were asked to board a bus for the 110-mile drive to Heathrow Airport.

The Concorde, which British Airways and Air France began flying commercially in 1976 but will be retired in October, can travel the 3,000 miles between London and New York in three hours, 20 minutes, about half the time of a conventional airliner.

But Wednesday's journey took nearly 10 hours.

British Airways said the landing had not been an emergency, the safety of the 99 passengers and six crew members was never compromised and no one was hurt.

Steve Double of British Airways said the passengers would get frequent-flyer miles as compensation. The airline's remaining Concorde flights are sold out, he said, so passengers will have to use their miles on subsonic flights.

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