Aviation safety experts believe it was the pilot’s quick response and the plane’s containment systems that saved many lives when a fire broke out in a British Airways plane during takeoff on a Las Vegas runway.
Advances in aviation safety played a vital role in averting what could have been a major disaster. Experts note several incidents in past years which cost the lives of crew and passengers.
A similar incident happened over 30 years ago, when an engine caught fire on a British Airtours flight 28M taking off from Manchester International Airport in August 1985. Takeoff was aborted due to engine failure but the fire has quickly engulfed the plane, killing 53 passengers and two cabin crews.
An investigation over the incident led to several safety recommendations including floor lighting, fire-resistant wall and ceiling panels, more fire extinguishers and clearer evacuation rules.
The Guardian quoted Tony Cable, a former senior engineer at UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) saying, “There’s a fire handle in the cockpit – if the pilot gets a warning that an engine is on fire, he double checks which engine with other crew, then pulls the handle. That shuts off a valve in the fuel tank as well as the electrics and hydraulics, and removes ignition sources and fuel. You can’t control the oil but the quantity of that is limited. And there should be titanium and steel walls that would contain a fire in the engine.”
Mr Cable said new designs have now limited the consequences of an engine fire.
“You could get a very nasty situation if debris comes out and damages the wing or the fuel line. These are very rare – most airline pilots will go an entire career without an engine failure. And aircraft are designed to deal with failures and to make them survivable. Aviation now remains fantastically safe,” he told The Guardian.
The captain of Flight 2276 is being recognised as a hero after he prevented a potential disaster from happening in what experts call a textbook evacuation.
General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, Jim McAuslan commended the pilot and crew of the BA plane involved in the incident.
“Pilots take their personal responsibility for the safety and comfort of passengers extremely seriously and train relentlessly to deal with this kind of rare event. Pilots are trained to prepare for things not going to plan throughout every single flight so that they are able to make split-second decisions and keep passengers safe,” he said.
“A pilot could go through their whole career without dealing with an incident like this but if it happens all the training and time in the simulator pays off.”
“While we await a meticulous investigation to help us understand this fire and prevent it happening again, all pilots will want to recognise the professional way the pilots and crew dealt with this emergency situation,” said Mr McAuslan.
The Guardian identified the pilot as Chris Henkey, a 63-year-old man with 42 years of flying experience. Mr Henkey was due to retire next week.
The airplane aborted its takeoff. The crew and passengers of flight 2276 were forced to abandon the plane after one of the engines caught fire. In an audio recording, Mr Henkey can be heard issuing a mayday call.
‘Mayday! Mayday!’ Hear British Airways pilot declare an emergency after plane catches fire http://t.co/wCuzAWsjph
— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 9, 2015
The fire in the left side of the plane was immediately put out by around 50 firefighters. The US National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the incident. The investigation team composed of systems and fire specialists is being led by Senior Investigator-in-Charge Lorenda Ward.
Some passengers who have witnessed the incident posted photos and videos on social media sites.
Just evacuated on a British Airways flight at Las Vegas airport after an engine caught fire. Don’t think anyone hurt pic.twitter.com/Y986xW9Wzy
— Jacob Steinberg (@JacobSteinberg) September 8, 2015