Plane catches fire as man's journey from London to Athens turns into 33-hour odyssey

David Churchill
Blaze: One of the planes used in the journey, above, caught fire shortly after take-off: Gerhard Plomitzer

A tourist whose flight from London to Athens turned into a 33-hour odyssey involving four British Airways planes, one of which caught fire, says he will never fly with the airline again.

Geoff Lye said his “nightmare” began when his flight at 1.15pm on Tuesday last week was cancelled due to a faulty cockpit warning light.

A second plane was ready to take off from Heathrow at 5pm before passengers were told it was also being axed.

BA today said this was because the delay from the first cancellation would have meant cabin crew exceeding their allocated working hours.

The pilot reportedly told passengers the cancellation was “the most embarrassing PA announcement I have had to make”.

Examination: Engineers inspect the faulty engine

Passengers had to stay on the plane for an hour because of “security issues” before being let off, Mr Lye claimed.

They were given vouchers for a free night’s stay in a London hotel and told to return the following day to board a third plane.

How the nightmare journey unfolded



1.15pm: first flight cancelled due to faulty cockpit light.

5pm: second flight cancelled because delay meant cabin crew would exceed their working hours.


1.40pm: third flight takes off but soon catches fire and turns back.

7.40pm: fourth flight takes off.


12.30am local time: passengers finally arrive in Athens.

However, moments after take-off at 1.40pm passengers heard six loud bangs as the plane juddered and the starboard engine caught fire, spitting out flames.

Mr Lye, who was travelling with his partner, said: “We just took off and there was a bang and it was the engine next to me. There was this huge noise and a judder, and then there were about six more bangs. It was one bang after another.

“I’m an atheist but even I was praying. Our hearts were racing. Passengers behind me said they could see flames kicking out from the engine.

“The plane got to about 6,000ft and just levelled out and then all of a sudden just silence as they shut down the right engine. The captain then came on and said, ‘Everything is under control and we have had to shut the engine down, but I’m sorry, we are going back to Heathrow’.

“We landed perfectly safely, accompanied by a fire engine. At this point we were just delighted to be alive.”

A fourth plane took off at about 7.40pm on Wednesday and the couple did not reach Athens until the early hours of Thursday, local time. Mr Lye, who studied classics at Cambridge, was travelling there with his partner to revisit ancient sites.

Herculean labour: Geoff Lye had three of his flights cancelled

The flight should take about four hours. The pensioner, who advises businesses on being more sustainable, said: “It makes me embarrassed to be British. We had Americans including a honeymoon couple… they just couldn’t believe it, they were shocked.

“There was no communication and it was unbelievable they could get so much wrong. I have been flying BA for nearly 40 years… I have been their most loyal passenger, but if I can avoid it now, I will.”

BA today confirmed that the Heathrow to Athens passengers were forced to board four separate planes over two days.

It said: “We fully appreciate how frustrating this experience has been and have apologised to our customers for the long delay to their flight.”