LEEDS UNITED players and staff were among forty passengers successfully evacuated after an aeroplane they were travelling in crash-landed at Stansted Airport on March 30, 1998.
A chartered Hawker Siddeley HS-748 turbo prop was taking the Leeds squad, minus manager George Graham who stayed in London, back to Leeds-Bradford Airport after a 3-0 Premiership defeat at West Ham.
But as it reached a height of 150 feet, the starboard engine exploded into flames and the pilot - 61-year-old Captain John Hackett - aborted the flight.
The 15-year-old plane, owned by Belfast-based Emerald Airways, overshot the runway as it crash-landed, with the nose wheel collapsing as the craft came to a stop about 300 feet from the perimeter fence.
The first call to the emergency services was timed at 12.43am, as crew and passengers performed what was described as a copybook evacuation, with the pilot of the plane praised for averting a disaster.
Just two passengers received minor injuries, including United assistant manager David O’Leary, while four members of the crew needed treatment.
The Leeds party included 18 players and former stars Norman Hunter and Eddie Gray.
O’Leary, who injured his shoulder forcing open a door, said. “You’re hoping you won’t hit anything, that it won’t explode.
“The plane was like a roller-coaster. There was a lot of fire and everyone just got off as fast as possible.
“We are all pretty shaken up but the overwhelming feeling is that we’re glad to get out in one piece.
“Everyone on board could see the flames and everyone seemed to be shouting: ‘Fire! There’s a fire’.”
Defender Gunnar Halle added: “Just after we took off, we heard a big bang and saw the flames from the engine on the right-hand side. We were just off the ground. “There was a little bit of shouting. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Praising the pilot, Stansted duty manager Melvyn Seymour said: “It’s hard to say what’s going through your mind when you hit the ground and you’re sliding on the runway.
“I dread to think what would have happened then. You would have been talking about a major explosion and I would think about certainly fatalities.
“From the time of the fire and the explosion in the engine took place, he (Hackett) would probably have had a few seconds to decide to abort the flight.
“Those are the decision pilots are trained to make and he made a superb decision.”
The Leeds squad were taken to an emergency centre before being allowed to leave in the early hours of the morning, completing their journey to Elland Road by coach at 7.30am, more than nine hours after finishing the match at Upton Park.