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Virgin Atlantic emergency landing couple thought they were 'going to die'
AN ORPINGTON couple on board the packed Virgin Atlantic plane forced into an emergency landing at Gatwick Airport has described scenes of "complete mayhem" as passengers trampled over each other to exit the aircraft.
Mandy and Ricky Whitton said cabin crew were screaming at passengers to go down the plane's inflatable slides and literally pushing people on to the chutes.
Mandy, 47, was taken to hospital by ambulance on a spinal board in a neck brace after injuring her back when she landed on the concrete at the bottom of one of the chutes.
The couple, who were travelling on flight VS27 to Orlando on Monday, April 16, with their nine-year-old daughter Ellie and Ricky's parents Janice, 62, and Brian, 62, cancelled their family's £6,500 holiday to Disneyland in Florida.
Police officer Ricky, 40, said: "We'd been looking forward to it for months - it was going to be that once-in-a-life time dream holiday for us.
"Ellie turned nine on Saturday and it was her birthday present. We were going to swim with dolphins on her birthday.
"The holiday had been booked since last August and we were all so excited about it.
"It has been my life-long dream to go to America and this was going to be it."
He said Virgin Atlantic had offered to put them on another plane to Orlando leaving the next day - but they had refused.
Mandy, a housekeeper and nanny, said: "I will never fly again. That's it for me. It was just so traumatic. I thought we were all going to die and I'm going to have to get counselling to get over it."
She said after the emergency landing the cabin was plunged into darkness and passengers waited for five minutes before any announcement came from the captain.
She said: "Everybody was petrified. Nobody knew what was happening. There were no announcements and the whole plane was in silence.
"There was a man near me whose baby was sick and he stood up because he didn't know what to do.
"At first the air hostess said to him: 'Sit back down, Sir', but when he didn't she screamed at him: "Sit down now!".
"Eventually the captain came on and said: 'This is an emergency! Evacuate! Evacuate!'
"And that's when it turned to complete chaos. It was mayhem. All the cabin crew started yelling: 'Everybody off, everybody off!'
"All the passengers were screaming and shouting and pushing each other and trampling over each other to reach the emergency exits to go down the chutes.
"I remember the cabin crew couldn't open one of the doors, so one of the passengers yanked it open.
"Some of the chutes didn't open properly and when they did open they were vertical.
"Some people were too frightened to go down them, so the cabin crew were literally yelling at them to go.
"It was like something out of a movie."
Mandy said bodies were piling up at the bottom of the chutes as passengers landed on top of each other.
She said: "It was mayhem. There were people with broken arms and broken legs and broken ribs and everybody had cuts and bruises because of the gravel we landed on. There was blood everywhere.
"Once you got to the bottom you had to get up quickly so you weren't squashed by the next person coming down.
"Then everybody was running across the grass to get away from the plane. We all thought it was going to explode."
After being taken to the airport terminal in a shuttle bus, Mandy was seen by paramedics and taken by ambulance to Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with a suspected fracture to her spine.
Luckily, an x-ray showed tissue damage, but no fracture.
Ricky said: "I went with Mandy in the ambulance and Ellie stayed with my parents. At first they were taken to one of the departure gates where they were given first aid for their cuts.
"Later they were taken to the Hilton Hotel, where all the passengers were put up for the night. Mandy and I joined them later.
"None of us had our shoes on because we had taken them off for the flight and we'd left everything on the plane - we didn't have anything, not even our phones.
"We didn't get our hand luggage back until about midnight and we didn't get our hold luggage back until about midday the next day."
Ricky said they had realised something was wrong with the plane from the moment it took off.
He said: "We have been on a lot of short-haul flights over the years, and we just knew the take off didn't seem right. The plane was tipping from side to side and was really wobbly.
"Then about half an hour into the flight the pilot put out a call saying: 'Cabin crew to the flight deck immediately!'
"That's when we really started to get scared."
'I thought it was the end'
Mandy said: "The seatbelt sign came on and the cabin crew came running back down the plane switching all the TV screens off.
"An announcement came out from the captain that we would have to turn round and go back to Gatwick because of problem in the cockpit.
"We were right at the back of the plane, but we could smell smoke coming from the front and I could hear them using the fire extinguishers.
"I thought the worst. I really thought it was the end and that we were all going to die."
She said Virgin Atlantic had offered them each a free flight to anywhere in the world, but she didn't know whether they would be offered cash compensation instead.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said: "We are working closely with the authorities to establish the cause of the incident and will be fully assisting the relevant parties with the investigation.
"We would like to apologise to all of those customers that were affected by what is a very rare incident.
"We cannot comment on individual claims of the situation on board but we are confident that the crew executed the emergency procedures to very high standard.
"In these incidents crew are highly trained and part of this training is to speak very loudly and shout instructions on evacuation.
"We apologise to all of those customers that have suffered a very difficult experience – we are working around the clock to ensure that best possible care for everyone involved."