AVIATION: ANALYSIS

Near-miss in Chicago after American Airlines plane blows tyre and catches fire before take-off

Inside the aircraft after it came to a stop, frantic passengers shouted at each other to hurry while making their way down the aisle to an emergency exit slide

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 4:53am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 5:57pm

The engine of an American Airlines jet caught fire as the aircraft was about to depart Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday, prompting the crew to abort take-off and evacuate passengers via emergency chutes, authorities said.

No serious injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred just hours before a similar, unrelated mishap in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the landing gear of a FedEx cargo plane collapsed, sparking a fire that was quickly extinguished. The company later said the FedEx pilots were safe.

American Airlines Flight 383, a Boeing 767 bound for Miami with 161 passengers and a crew of nine, was headed down an O’Hare runway at about 2.30pm when the right-side engine of the twin-engine jet burst into flames, authorities said.

Footage from Chicago’s ABC News affiliate station, WLS-TV, showed the idled plane on the ground with flames and large clouds of black smoke billowing from its right side and emergency slides deployed on the left side. Passengers milled about watching the blaze as fire trucks pumped water on the flames.

Timothy Sampey, assistant deputy fire commissioner for airport operations, said the mishap could have been much worse.

The plane was fully loaded with 19,504kg of jet fuel, which was leaking when fire crews reached the jet, Sampey told a news conference later.

They had a heavy volume of fire on both the engine and the entire wing. This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later
Timothy Sampey, assistant deputy fire commissioner

“So they had a heavy volume of fire on both the engine and the entire wing,” he said. “This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later.”

Sampey confirmed the incident began with a fire in the left-side engine.

The Federal Aviation Administration initially said the pilot aborted take-off after reporting a blown-out tire. The airline said seven passengers and one flight attendant were taken to a hospital for evaluation of minor injuries.

Inside the aircraft after it came to a stop, frantic passengers shouted at each other to hurry while making their way down the aisle to an emergency exit slide, as seen in a video posted on Facebook by Hector Gustavo Cardenas, who was on the plane.

The incident forced the closure of at least three of the airport’s eight runways, the city Aviation Department said.

By about two hours after the incident, the airport had experienced 130 delays of departing flights and 170 inbound flights, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com

As the mishap unfolded, tower controllers at O’Hare began ordering inbound aircraft to abort their landing approaches and “go around”, initially closing all runways so emergency vehicles could reach the stricken aircraft, according to audio recordings of the main tower frequency posted by the website liveatc.net.

Asked by the pilot of one inbound plane to explain the manoeuvre, a tower controller is heard on the recordings saying: “Vehicles have rights to all the runways right now because an American engine burst into flame on the roll-out.”

Operations later resumed on the north side of O’Hare airport, one of the world’s busiest, according to web tracking sites and a live feed of tower conversations from liveatc.net.