Aviation accidents

Firefighter killed battling blaze from Emirates flight after hard landing in Dubai airport

Fourteen people were taken to hospital but all passengers and crew evacuated safely

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 6:02am

One firefighter died battling an intense blaze from an Emirates jetliner which crash-landed and caught fire in Dubai on Wednesday, shutting down the world’s busiest airport for hours as the authorities said all of the 300 passengers were evacuated safely.

The firefighter was killed trying to put out the flames from the accident, Emirates airline chairman and CEO Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum told a news conference on Wednesday.

The cause of the accident involving the Boeing 777 was not immediately clear, Dubai’s government and the carrier said.

“It was actually really terrifying. As we were landing there was smoke coming out in the cabin,” said passenger Sharon Maryam Sharji. “People were screaming and we had a very hard landing. We left by going down the emergency slides and as we were leaving on the runway we could see the whole plane catch fire. It was horrifying.”

Another passenger leaving the airport with his family said there had been a problem with the landing gear.

A spokesman for operator Dubai Airports said everyone aboard flight EK521 coming from Thiruvananthapuram in southern India had been evacuated.

Emirates confirmed the incident.

“We can confirm flight EK521 from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai has been involved in an accident at Dubai International,” the carrier said on its Twitter account.

“We can confirm there are no fatalities among our passengers and crew. All passengers and crew are accounted for and safe,” it said.

Airport authorities halted all operations at Dubai International, Dubai Airports said on Twitter. Flights at Dubai International resumed at 6:30 p.m (1430 GMT) after all arrivals and departures were suspended for over five hours, authorities said.

Arriving planes have been diverted to other airports, the government said. Dubai opened a smaller second airport, Al-Maktoum International, in 2013.

Emirates said that there were 282 passengers and 18 crew members on board, including 226 Indians, 24 Britons and 11 Emirati nationals.

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Emirates said it had “no further information on what may have caused the accident”.

“Our priority remains with the passengers and crew involved,” it said.

Both the airline and aircraft have a solid safety record. It is the first time an aircraft operated by Emirates has been damaged beyond repair since the carrier was founded in the 1980s.

The crash is nonetheless a blow to the Dubai carrier weeks after it was voted the world’s top airline by Skytrax at the Farnborough Airshow, taking the crown from rival Qatar Airways.

Emirates carried 51.3 million passengers in 2015 and is the world’s fourth largest carrier in terms of passenger traffic. It has over 250 aircraft, including the world’s largest fleet of Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 jets.

The director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, Saif al-Suwaidi, said that investigators had been sent to work with Emirates and the Dubai airport authorities.

Footage on social media showed thick black smoke coming out of the centre of the plane while the fuselage appeared to be lying on the runway with escape slides opened.

The Dubai Media Office said the fire “has been contained”, adding that emergency teams at the airport and Emirates are “well trained to deal with such incidents”.

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According to air traffic control recordings cited by Aviation Herald, a respected independent website monitoring air accidents, controllers at Dubai reminded the crew of the Boeing 777 to lower the landing gear as it came into approach.

Shortly afterwards, the crew announced they were aborting the landing to “go around”, a routine procedure for which pilots are well trained. But the aircraft came to rest near the end of the runway instead, Aviation Herald reported.

It was not clear whether the landing gear was extended when the aircraft touched the ground at 0845 GMT. A family of passengers who declined to be named said the equipment did not deploy and the jet landed on its belly.

Safety experts said it was too early to pinpoint a cause for the crash, but Sheikh Ahmed ruled out any security breach.

Boeing said it would work with Emirates to gather more information.

Investigators will scour the wreckage and interview pilots, controllers and witnesses for clues to any technical malfunctions, human error or weather-related problems.

Judging by footage of the aircraft’s intact tail section, where the ‘black box’ flight recorders are located, vital voice and data recordings should be retrievable.

According to specialist aviation weather reports, at the time of the accident temperatures at Dubai International airport were up to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) and wind shear - a potentially hazardous condition involving sudden and unpredictable changes in wind direction or speed - was indicated on the airport’s runways.

The accident comes almost four months after a plane belonging to Dubai’s other carrier, flydubai, crashed and burst into flames as it was landing in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, killing all 61 people on board.

On July 26, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 aircraft heading to the Maldives made an emergency landing in Mumbai, India because of a “technical fault”.

Dubai resident Girisankal Gangadhakan said his wife called him after the plane landed to tell him that she and their three children had been involved in an accident but were safe.

“I was shocked when I heard about that,” he said.

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Dubai International is the world’s largest hub in terms of international passengers, and is the base for Emirates, from where it serves more than 153 destinations.

Emirates, Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad have seized a significant portion of transcontinental travel, capitalising on the geographic locations of their Gulf hubs.