The pilot credited with saving the lives of dozens of passengers on a burning British Airways plane said it was the first time in 42 years of flying that he'd ever faced a life-threatening emergency — and it happened on one of his last runs before retirement.
"It's safe to say I'm finished flying," Chris Henkey told NBC News Wednesday by phone from a hotel in Las Vegas, where he was waiting to brief investigators.
Henkey, 63, has been praised for his calm under pressure and has become an instant celebrity in his native England. Holed up in his hotel, he acknowledged having a sense of the acclaim he's drawn.
He was cheered by his passengers after they made it back to the terminal, according to first-hand account in the Guardian newspaper.
They credited Henkey for slamming the brakes and steering the Boeing 777 to safety after its left engine caught fire during takeoff from McCarran International Airport just after 4 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) for a 10-hour flight to London Gatwick.
He can be heard on air traffic control recordings issuing a mayday call and asking for firefighters.
But Henkey insisted that he wasn't the only one who helped save the 159 passengers aboard Flight 2276.
"It's not just me," Henkey said. "It's the whole crew, really."
Henkey was the plane's captain. He was joined in the cockpit by two senior first officers — one with 18 years of experience, the other with 10, British Airways said in a statement that did not name any of the crew.
Henkey would not discuss details of the incident — he's saving that for British and American investigators.
But he said that in 42 years of flying, he's never experienced such an emergency.
"Not at all," he said. "It's ironic, really. Nothing like it at all."
Henkey is from the small town of Padsworth in southeast England. He used to own a pub there, and is an active member of a rugby charity called Wooden Spoon.
The organization has called him a "star supporter," and praised him on Twitter.
Flight 2276 was to be Henkey's second-to-last flight before he retired. His final run was to take him to Barbados, one of his favorite places in the world, where he planned to join his daughter on vacation.
But that last flight probably won't happen, he said. "It's looking unlikely for the moment."
Of the 159 passengers and 13 crew members, 27 suffered minor injuries, most while using inflatable slides to escape the burning craft, officials said.
Henkey said he wasn't hurt, even though he did fall off the slide.
"But we're all okay," he said.