FOUR friends have spoken of their terror as their holiday plane was forced into an emergency landing after suffering engine trouble.
Justin Toner, of Norfolk Grove, Church, said yesterday: "I thought we were going to die."
But after dumping fuel the pilot was able to bring the aircraft down safely at an Italian airport.
Justin was jetting back from a week's holiday in Crete last Saturday with his pals Phil Egan, of Gloucester Avenue, Clayton-le-Moors, Julian Cooper, of Sydney Street, Clayton-le-Moors, and Gary O'Brien, of Ormerod Street, Accrington.
But after an hour-and-a-half had elapsed, at 30,000 feet, the captain delivered the bombshell news that there was a problem with one of the engines and the plane was going to make an emergency landing.
Justin, 30, said: "We thought there was a problem as Phil had seen sparks coming out of the engine as we were taking off. After about an hour, the plane suddenly dropped to the left and then to the right. A couple of minutes later it did it again and then all the alarms and sirens started going off.
"All the cabin crew rushed to the cockpit and the captain came on the tannoy, saying he was going to have to shut one of the engines down."
Justin said he could see fuel being dumped out of the plane as it flew over the sea.
He said: "People were just clinging on for dear life. It was so tense in there - everyone was absolutely petrified. We lost height very quickly, but then the pilot levelled off and came straight in on the runway. As we came to a halt we could see fire engines, police and soldiers with guns. As we stopped, the fire engines came racing over."
The Air Scandic flight from Heraklion was carrying around 250 passengers, who left the plane at Pescara Airport and gathered in the terminal waiting for their luggage.
Justin says no reps from their holiday company My-Travel came to speak to them, although a fellow passenger managed to arrange for the group to stay in nearby hotels until a flight home could be arranged.
Even then there were long delays before hotel rooms were allocated and a meal organised. They finally arrived in Manchester at 3am on Sunday, around 24 hours after their original flight had taken off.
A spokesman for Air Scandic said the plane was forced to land after a warning indicator light started flashing in the cockpit.
He said: "The captain did everything correctly and followed all the standard procedures. It was not a standard landing. It would normally take a plane longer to descend from 30,000 feet than this flight, which came down in 15 to 20 minutes."
Explaining why the fuel was dumped, the spokesman added: "All aircraft can only land or take off at certain weights. This flight had enough fuel for the four-and-a-half-hour journey so some had to be dumped to bring the weight down for landing."
A spokeswoman for Airtours Holidays, part of MyTravel, which employs 500 people at its Accrington call centre, said: "We apologise to all our customers who were involved in this diverted flight. They were all transferred to nearby hotels, where they were given food and refreshments until an alternative aircraft was located to continue their flight back to Manchester."
The four friends are now seeking compensation over what happened.
Justin said: "None of us could eat or sleep after a traumatic 24 hours. We have all been to see the doctor and are receiving medication and time off work."