An engine failure on a Las Vegas-to-London British Airways jet Tuesday sparked a fire that forced the evacuation of the plane and resulted in 14 minor injuries.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Ian Gregor said the Boeing 777-200’s left engine caught fire while it was preparing to take off from Las Vegas’s McCarren Airport. Billowing black smoke and orange flames could be seen pouring from under the plane’s wings, sending passengers fleeing quickly from the aircraft and across the tarmac before firefighters doused the aircraft in minutes.
McCarren Airport said the incident involved British Airways Flight 2276, which was headed to London’s Gatwick Airport. British Airways said late Tuesday that 157 passengers, not 159 according to earlier reports, were on board Flight 2276 in addition to 10 crew members and three pilots when the engine caught fire.
Fire officials said the injured were taken to Sunrise Hospital for minor injuries, most occurring as a result of sliding down the inflatable chutes to escape.
Sky News reported that the plane’s pilot can be heard on an audio recording calmly asking for fire crews before radioing air traffic control: “We are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire, I repeat, we are evacuating.”
Firefighters stationed at the airport reached the plane two minutes after getting reports of flames, and within another three minutes, everyone inside the plane had escaped. Sky News reported that approximately 50 firefighters responded.
After firefighters extinguished the flames, emergency vehicles could be seen surrounding the aircraft, which was left a sooty gray from the smoke and fire retardant. Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen told the Associated Press the cause of the fire wasn’t clear yet, but it didn’t appear to breach the cabin.
Reggie Bügmüncher, of Philadelphia, said she was charging her phone and waiting at a gate for her flight when she heard people saying, “Oh, my God.” She looked out the window and could see “bursts of flames coming out of the middle of the plane.”
“Everyone ran to the windows and people were standing on their chairs, looking out, holding their breath with their hands over their mouths,” Bügmüncher said.
The plane’s emergency slides were deployed a few moments later and passengers quickly got off the plane. She said it was a “bit more orderly” than she would have expected given the dramatic nature of the fire and smoke.
The National Transportation Safety Board was collecting information about the incident, said Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the agency in Washington.
British Airways spokeswoman Caroline Titmuss didn’t answer questions about Tuesday’s fire in an email exchange with the Associated Press but said “safety is always our priority.”
A later statement from Titmuss said those on board the flight had been given hotel rooms and were being assisted by airline staff. Family and friends of those on board were told to call 1-800-654-3246 for further information.
The FAA delayed flights to Las Vegas from some airports for more than two hours after the fire to slow the flow of planes, while the disabled plane made two of the airport’s four runways inaccessible. One of the runways reopened about 2 1/2 hours after the fire.
The Boeing 777-200, popular with airlines for its fuel efficiency for long-haul flights, has been involved in three fatal accidents in its 21-year history: one in July 2013 that killed three passengers when an Asiana Airlines flight landed short of San Francisco International Airport’s runway; Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared last year, and a piece of its debris was recently recovered on an Indian Ocean island; and Flight MH17 that was shot down over Ukraine.