Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

SENIOR First Officer John Coward

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

SENIOR First Officer John Coward

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Gutteridge

SENIOR First Officer John Coward must have the least appropriate name for a hero. With nerves of steel he guided his 777 onto the Heathrow grass, rather than parking it somewhere in the middle of Hounslow.

Quite what he must have felt when the engines lost power in his final approach can scarcely be imagined.

It was hardly life threatening, but I once piloted a television programme that lost power and crash landed in front of six million viewers.

The programme was Panorama, in the days when it was presented live in the studio by David Dimbleby. One week, when I was in the director's chair, the show looked as though it would be an extremely easy ride. With no studio guests, David had to walk across the studio, sit down at a desk and introduce two films. We even had some standby films lined up in case anything went wrong.

With the 30 or so television monitors making the studio control room glow like the deck of a jumbo jet, the show took off with its portentous opening music. David went into the first link. "Good Evening. Tonight on Panorama..." Just as he reached the word "Tonight", all the screens in the control room suddenly went blank. All except four. Every single piece of film had disappeared, but there were four separate camera shots of David.

In vain, I gazed at the empty screens, willing the films to reappear. The technical crew were screaming into telephones. Oblivious to the approaching catastrophe, Dimbleby kept going.

"Our first film tonight . . ."

We had just 10 seconds before David reached the end of his script. I braced myself for the inevitable.

"Here's his report," he announced. Then silence. It took a few seconds for David to realize we weren't going to cut away from him.

Then he apologised to the viewers and paused. I rang the telephone on his desk. The scene has been replayed many times on Auntie's Bloomers. Indeed, if you turn up the volume you can just about make out my voice at the end of the line. …

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