Passengers screamed and climbed over seats to get off a burning American Airlines plane in Chicago last October, but wind from the plane's second engine hindered the evacuation, according to investigative reports released Thursday.
Nobody died in the incident and the National Transportation Safety Board has drawn no conclusions about what caused the engine fire or what could be done to prevent another one. A disc in the right engine broke apart and hurled pieces up to a half-mile away.
Flight 383 to Miami on Oct. 28 was hurtling down the runway at O’Hare at more than 125 mph when part of the right engine broke apart with “ka-boom,” according to a report from the board.
“During the takeoff roll, he heard a loud bang,” investigators said of a passenger in seat 21B. “Almost instantaneously he saw what he thought were ‘orange sparks’ and the gentleman sitting next to him stated they were on fire.”
Because the Boeing 767-300 was full of fuel, flames from the General Electric engine that ultimately destroyed the right wing were a grave concern. Flight attendants opened left-side doors and began evacuating the plane before hearing the pilot’s order to do so, according to investigators.
“Passengers were continuing to plead with her to let them off the plane,” a flight attendant told investigators. “The cabin began filling with smoke and she was concerned the airplane was heavy with fuel so she decided to evacuate.”
The left-side engine continued to idle after the plane came to a halt. The captain described shutting down the fuel to the right engine as the first officer discharged fire retardant, and then depressurized the plane, according to an emergency checklist the pilot called “cumbersome.”
After depressurizing, the captain shut down the left engine and gave the order to evacuate. He discovered “a lot of smoke” as pilots departed the cockpit.
Based on videos from people inside the terminal, exit doors began opening 15 seconds after the plane came to a stop and the evacuation was complete 2 minutes and 6 seconds later.
Flight attendants told investigators that emergency slides were blown toward the rear of the plane by the left engine before it was shut down. A passenger in seat 20B told investigators he tumbled getting off the bottom of the slide where there was no one to help him.
“He stood up to get away from the airplane and was blown over by the thrust coming out of the back of the engine,” the report said. “He got back up again ran to a grass strip next to the runway. He could feel pain in his back.”
A passenger in seat 43C told investigators “about 20 passengers were standing around the last exit door on the left side yelling for the crew to open the door and get out.”
Some passengers brought bags along as they left the plane, despite flight attendants instructing them not to.
Out of 170 people on board, one suffered serious injuries and 19 minor injuries.
The NTSB hasn’t come to any conclusions about what caused the incident or any recommendations for avoiding the problem in the future. The investigation could take months longer before reaching those conclusions.