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LONDON — A Virgin Atlantic passenger jet bound for Las Vegas suffered a fault with its landing gear and was forced to turn back for a "non-standard landing" in London on Monday, officials said. The Boeing 747 landed at Gatwick Airport and was immediately flanked by emergency services vehicles. Virgin Atlantic confirmed the flight had "landed safely" and said its "priority now is to look after our passengers and crew."
The flight had just reached the Atlantic when it began circling and turned back toward the British capital. Gatwick Airport said in a statement that "the aircraft developed a technical fault." Virgin spokeswoman Anna Catchpole confirmed in a statement that the aircraft turned back "due to a technical issue with one of the landing gears," and said the plane was "preparing to implement a non-standard landing procedure at Gatwick airport." West Sussex and Surrey fire departments told NBC News they had dispatched fire engines and specialist units to Gatwick as a precaution.
Gatwick closed its sole runway immediately after the plane landed at around 4 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) and an airport spokesman said it would likely not open for two hours while the jumbo jet was moved off the runway. "Currently no flights are departing Gatwick and inbound flights are being diverted to other airports," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We advise passengers to check with their airlines on the status of their flight."
Nick Hughes, a passenger traveling to Las Vegas for a vacation with his wife, said the pilots attempted to correct the issue several times mid-flight by tilting the aircraft from one wing to another. They also increased the thrust before descending the plane back down in what the crew said was an attempt to "settle the landing gear," according to the 38-year-old from Staffordshire, England. After this failed the passengers were instructed how to adopt the "brace" position before the aircraft made its approach to Gatwick.
"Some people were understandably upset, but in the end it was one of the most comfortable landings I've had all year," he added.