A British Airways engineer was tragically killed in a runway smash with another airport vehicle at Heathrow.
Colleagues last night paid tribute to ‘kind, generous and chatty’ John Coles, 44, who joined the company nearly three decades ago as an apprentice.
It was also claimed the collision should never have happened because the other vehicle involved, being driven by a BAA (British Airports Authority) worker, should have given way to aircraft engineer Mr Coles, who had just started his shift.
Passengers watched the tragedy unfold at Terminal 5 when Mr Coles’s airport van collided with a pick-up on the tarmac where planes taxi to and from the runway
He went into cardiac arrest at the scene just after 6am yesterday. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him both at the scene and on the way to hospital but he later died at a West London Hospital.
Mr Coles’s family were last night too devastated to speak about the tragedy at the family home in Broadstone, Dorset, where Mr Coles grew up.
However, one colleague paid tribute, telling the Mail: ‘John was a great friend to us all. He was kind, generous and chatty.
‘He was a gentle, likeable, positive man with lots of ideas for his future.
‘He joined BA as an apprentice in 1989 and so he will now be sorely missed.’
They said Mr Coles was single. Regarding the incident he said the other driver should have given way to Mr Coles.
He added: ‘The yellow BAA (British Airports Authority) vehicle crossed the vehicle taxiway – a safe crossing for cars to cross the aircraft taxiway – lines without giving way to John who was crossing.
‘It’s basically like going through a zebra crossing with pedestrians on. The BAA vehicle must give way to vehicles crossing the live taxiway.
‘John had just started his shift. We are not sure if he was on his way to an aircraft departure or arrival. ‘But witnesses also said the BAA vehicle was going very fast.’
The BAA driver, who was treated at the scene, suffered a suspected broken shoulder.
The airport said it was unable to disclose any details about him, including his job title.
But the distinctive yellow pick-ups with red stripes are often driven around the airfield at high speed by Heathrow staff carrying out tasks such as directing aircraft and inspecting the runways.
British Airways engineers also drive vans around the tarmac to check the planes before take-off and after landing.
No arrests have been made. But officers from the Met police’s serious collision investigation unit have launched an investigation.
Police stand around an airport vehicle on the Tarmac at London Heathrow Wednesday morning
The Health and Safety Executive are also investigating.
Colleagues continued to pay tribute to Mr Coles on social media last night with the hash tag ‘#justiceforjohn’.
User ‘Kyle / Springbok97’ wrote: ‘I worked with the guy that died at Heathrow airport today back when I was at BA! Nice guy! Such a shame!…It still hasn’t sunken in #JusticeForJohn’
Another colleague of the deceased, Kevin Fitzgibbon, of Wokingham, Berkshire, tweeted: ‘Sad day at work today. Lost one of our engineering colleagues this morning…My thoughts are with his family and friends at this terrible time.’
The emergency services went to the scene just after 6am following reports of the collision
Another wrote: ‘Can’t say anything, except for I knew this guy. RIP my friend. Gone way too soon.’
Another colleague wrote on an aviation forum: ‘I just hope that the yellow patrol driver gets done for life and that teach [sic] them a lesson…Rest in peace John.’
The incident also caused disruption for passengers, some of whom witnessed the aftermath of the accident.
Heathrow announced shortly after 8.30am that it was investigating the incident, which did not involve any passengers and was not expected to impact journeys.
But it quickly revised its statement to apologise as hundreds of passengers were evacuated from a plane following the incident, and thousands more experiencing delays of up to two hours as the disruption affected more than twenty flights.
Passengers were told to leave an aircraft which was unable to take off because of the incident
One of the two airport vehicles which crashed on the airfield is taken away on a truck
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s serious collision investigation unit went to the scene
Several aircraft preparing to take off were held on the ground after the collision near Terminal 5.
At least twenty British Airways flights were delayed.
A police spokesman said: ‘Police were called at 6.06am on Wednesday following a collision between two airport vehicles on the taxiway at Heathrow Airport.
‘Officers attended with London Ambulance Service colleagues. One male is believed to have sustained a broken shoulder; his injuries are not life-threatening or life-changing.
The two vehicles involved in a crash (front left and front right, after they have been moved)
The incident happened near Terminal Five at London Heathrow Airport today (file picture)
‘Another male, aged in his 40s, was taken to a west London hospital with serious injuries. He has since died. Officers have informed next of kin.’
A BA spokesman described the disruption to passengers as ‘minimal’. They said: ‘We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident and are offering our full care and support to his family and colleagues.’
A Heathrow spokeswoman said: ‘We can confirm that following a serious accident involving two vehicles on our airfield, a British airways colleague has passed away.
‘Our deepest condolences go to the family and friends affected by this accident.
‘We will be fully cooperating with the Police in the investigation which will follow.’