By Alan Levin / Bloomberg News
Panicked passengers on an American Airlines Boeing 767-300 aircraft in Chicago last October demanded to evacuate as a massive fire engulfed the right wing, and were blasted by exhaust from the another engine that pilots hadn’t shut down.
The National Transportation Safety Board released more than 500 pages of investigative reports Thursday detailing how a metallurgical flaw led to a violent right engine failure, a fire that raged outside the plane, and the ensuing evacuation.
Flight attendants described a chaotic scene as they at first tried to prevent an evacuation because the plane’s left engine was still operating and was buffeting one of the escape slides. They relented after smoke began filling the cabin, and some of the passengers were blown to the tarmac by the blast of air from the working engine while they attempted to evacuate, according to the investigative reports.
One passenger told investigators that he “stood up to get away from the airplane and was blown over by the thrust coming out of the back of the engine,” NTSB wrote in one report. “He got back up again ran to a grass strip next to the runway. He could feel pain in his back.”
The aircraft was accelerating for takeoff Oct. 28 when its right engine exploded in what’s known as an uncontained failure. Shrapnel from the disintegrating engine ripped through the hardened casing and it burst into flames. Leaking fuel triggered a massive fireball on the right of the plane as passengers evacuated out the other side. Out of 170 people aboard, one person suffered a serious injury and 19 had minor injuries, according to NTSB.
The NTSB documents include reports on the crew’s performance, the failure in the engine and the evacuation. They stop short of reaching any conclusions about the causes of the incident, which will be issued later.
A rotating disk within the General Electric CF6-80 engine had an “internal inclusion,” meaning foreign debris became embedded within the nickel- and chromium-based alloy designed to withstand the heat and high stresses of a jet engine, according to the NTSB.
The engine that failed was built in 1997, according to GE.
The American flight had accelerated to 154 miles per hour before the pilots began applying the brakes, according to NTSB. It came to a stop about 25 seconds later. Fire crews arrived on scene and started applying foam to the burning jet fuel within 2 minutes and 51 seconds of being notified of the emergency, NTSB said.
The fire burned so hot that the right wing partially collapsed.