East of England MEP Richard Howitt reveals how he feared for his life in Macedonia plane drama
One of the region's Euro MPs has revealed how he feared he was going to die when the plane he was on was forced to make an emergency landing in Macedonia.
Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, was on a Czech Airline flight from Prague, which was due to land at snow-covered Skopje on Friday night, when the captain announced the flaps had failed on the wing.
Mr Howitt was told that the Boeing 737 plane would have to make a 'non-normal' landing and passengers were ordered to adopt the brace position.
Mr Howitt said: 'At Prague Airport the delay in setting off was put down to the snow at our destination of Skopje.
'Snow again was given as the explanation by the captain for starting to circle rather than land.
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'Then came an announcement from the cockpit that flaps had failed on the wing and it would be necessary to make a 'non-normal' landing.
'The announcements from the captain first in Czech then English were calm, as he instructed us repeatedly how important it was for us to stay calm.
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''After we land, you will be instructed where and how to evacuate the aircraft, and it is essential for your own safety that you follow the instructions exactly,' he said.'
Mr Howitt said, looking at the thick snow clouds out of the window as the plane circled for 40 minutes, he genuinely thought to himself that he might not be getting off the aircraft alive.
He said he had spoken to both his children in Prague, but not his partner Diana, who had been out, and he desperately wanted to send her a note, but his phone battery was dead.
As the passengers adopted the brace position, Mr Howitt said he heard a stewardess quietly saying 'pray, pray, pray' to herself as the plane approached the runway at Skopje airport, trying to land without one of the flaps which slows its ascent.
He praised the pilot for getting the plane under control and said the first sight he saw as he raised himself from the crouched position was lines of fire engines on either side of the runway.
Mr Howitt, who is the European Parliament rapporteur on Macedonia and was on his way to a conference in the former Yugoslav republic, said he had told Nikola Poposki, foreign minister for Macedonia, who was also on the plane, that the crew deserved medals for bringing in the plane safely.
He said: 'I fly something like 50 flights a year and nothing like that has ever happened to me before. It was absolutely terrifying and I thought it really could be the end, but the airline were brilliant about it.'