Virgin Atlantic
The pilots declared an emergency just 20 minutes after the Virgin Atlantic carrier took off on Sunday| Photo: AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS

A flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Manchester because "smoke" filled the cockpit minutes after take-off.

Virgin Atlantic's Flight VS77 on Sunday (Jan. 7) reportedly declared an emergency just 20 minutes after taking off from Manchester Airport at about 1 PM. The Airbus A330-300 carrier was over the Irish Sea, en route to the Barbados capital Bridgetown, when pilots squawked 7700 (general emergency) and turned it around to the origin airport.

The Virgin Atlantic carrier's pilots supposedly informed Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) of "dense and acrid smell of smoke".

Virgin Atlantic apologised for the inconvenience in a statement and said it was a "technical issue".

"The VS77 from Manchester to Barbados has returned to Manchester due to a technical issue. The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. We'll ensure our customers can complete their travel plans and keep them updated directly on next steps," a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said.

The plane flew over Rhyl in Wales at an altitude of approximately 9,000 feet, which was half the altitude it was at when it flew out in the opposite direction, as per reports in the English media.

Virgin Atlantic later on confirmed in a statement to The Independent that the flight was cancelled and all affected customers would be "rebooked on alternative flights".

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service were already on alert, waiting for the plane when it landed safely in Manchester. A spokesperson of the fire service confirmed to Manchester Evening News that they had been called to the scene.

"At just after 1.30 pm [on Sunday], firefighters were called to an incident involving an aircraft making an emergency landing at Manchester Airport. Three fire engines from Wythenshawe and Stockport, the Technical Response Unit from Ashton and the Command Support Unit from Hyde arrived quickly at the scene.

"Working alongside Manchester Airport fire personnel, firefighters were on standby for the aircraft's arrival, which landed safely. Our crews were in attendance for approximately one and a half hours," added the spokesperson.

Passengers on board took to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to ask Virgin Atlantic for help.

One user wrote: "Any chance you can let us know what is happening with VS78 from Barbados tonight now it is cancelled? When will I be able to get back?"

Meanwhile, this was not the first time a flight had been disrupted by smoke. In September 2023, an Air China flight was forced to make an emergency landing after the engine caught fire and the plane cabin filled with smoke. Flight CA403 was flying to Singapore from Chengdu, China when the incident occurred.