Virgin Airbus 'disappeared' over mainland

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:00am

Virgin Atlantic said yesterday it was baffled by a report that a jet flying from Hong Kong to London went missing for nearly an hour over China.

An official mainland report said air traffic controllers were placed on maximum alert when contact was lost with an Airbus 340-400 with 237 passengers and crew on board just north of Guangzhou.

Controllers from three provinces - and the captains of other aircraft flying the same route - tried in vain to contact Flight VS201 as it headed towards Beijing after flying over Guangzhou, according to a report in the official Guangzhou Daily.

They were taken off the alert when the pilot resumed contact after the crew repaired the radio, it said.

The aircraft, which left Hong Kong at 11.30pm on November 4, could be seen on radar screens but dropped out of radio contact at 12.30am.

Ground controllers' concern grew as repeated attempts at contact failed, the report said.

However, Virgin Atlantic last night said the 13-hour flight passed without incident, adding there were 'no faults or failures'.

A spokesman in London said Virgin was trying to contact China's Civil Aviation Administration.

'We've looked at our logs and reports from that flight and there is no evidence there was any system fault or failure,' he said.

'We will talk to Chinese air traffic control to see if we can ascertain what they believe to have happened.

'But with any of the reporting systems both manual and computer that we've got, we can't see any problem or any fault at all.' Aviation expert Jim Eckes said: 'This type of incident is more common in China than it is anywhere else. The Chinese air traffic controllers are not the best.

'If the pilot admitted he had radio problems then that would place the blame on the airline, but if he didn't I would say it was a Chinese problem.' Some areas of China do not have radar systems to track flight movements despite the recent installation of new equipment.

A United Airlines jumbo with 358 passengers and crew on board was forced to shut down one of its engines seconds after take-off from Chek Lap Kok yesterday when a bird flew into an engine. The pilot dumped fuel before turning back and landing.