An engine on a passenger jet bound for Caracas, Venezuela, burst into flames while taxiing for takeoff at a Florida airport on Thursday, forcing frightened passengers to exit the plane using inflatable emergency slides.
Fifteen people were injured, one seriously, as 101 passengers and crew evacuated the Dynamic International Airways’ Boeing 767-200ER within minutes of the pilots realizing there was a problem.
Television images showed the plane surrounded by white foam and firefighters’ trucks in Fort Lauderdale, its left engine badly charred.
The 29-year-old aircraft was leaking fuel before departure, the Federal Aviation Administration said, and its crew was warned about the leak by a jet taxiing behind it.
In video shot by a passenger on another plane, towering clouds of thick gray smoke could be seen billowing from the Dynamic flight before the blaze was extinguished. (Video:reut.rs/1P8bvzk)
Most of the injuries were bumps and bruises, Michael Jachles, a spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, told reporters. One child was among those being treated at Broward Health Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Luis Campana, a 71-year-old rancher, was traveling to Venezuela’s Guarico state with his wife and sister.
“It was a real scare,” Campana told Reuters at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He said he had been sitting near the front of the plane as the pilot put the thrust on to taxi up the runway.
“The engine exploded. As we were getting out of the plane down the chute, the smoke was beginning to enter and the engine was in flames,” he said.
The accident could have been catastrophic had the jet taken off with a fuel leak, Greg Feith, a former crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, told Reuters.
“Once the aircraft is airborne, it becomes a flying blowtorch,” Feith said. “The fire intensifies and you don’t know what system or structure it’s going to burn through.”
Fire could damage a wing and fuselage, or cripple hydraulic and electronic control systems, Feith said, potentially making an emergency landing impossible. It could also ignite fuel tanks in the wings, especially if fuel vapor were present, he said.
“ENGINE’S ON FIRE!”
Flight crew audio broadcast by CNN captured the moments those on the Venezuela-bound jet were warned of the danger.
“Hey, yeah, Dynamic, the left engine looks like it’s leaking, I don’t know, a lot of fuel. There is fluid leaking out of the left engine,” a voice can be heard saying.