By Zachary Fagenson
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, including one with serious burn wounds, 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 grey smoke could be seen billowing from the Dynamic flight before the blaze was extinguished.
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.
It was not immediately clear what might have happened if the plane had taken off with fuel still leaking.
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.
Campana said he did not see any injured people.
CNN broadcast what it said was flight crew audio recorded as 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.
“Uh, yes sir. We copy. We’ll probably need to go back to the – a ramp,” someone responds.
“Engine’s on fire! Engine’s on fire!” says another voice. “We’re calling the fire engine right now.”
‘A LOT OF SMOKE’
Officials got a call at 12:34 pm EDT (1634 GMT) that Dynamic Airways flight 405 experienced a left engine fire while taxiing on one of the airport’s two runways.
Passengers had been completely evacuated by 12:37 pm, Jachles told a news conference.
The airport reopened about three hours later.
Natalia Vargas, 50, said her 75-year-old mother phoned her from the plane and said there had been two strong explosions.
“There was a lot of smoke,” said Vargas, who lives in Miami and is originally from Venezuela. “Everyone was very nervous, but everyone was off the plane quickly,” she said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending four people to Fort Lauderdale to investigate the fire, the agency said.
Greensboro, North Carolina-based Dynamic said in a statement that the crew became aware of an engine problem while taxiing for departure.
The carrier said on its website that it has operated wide-body aircraft since 2009 and would investigate the fire.
The plane was powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, said Sara Banda, a spokeswoman from Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
Boeing Co said in a statement it is providing technical assistance to the NTSB investigation.
Dynamic’s 767-200ER was built in 1986, and only seven such planes of that age or older remain in service out of 65 built, according to Collateral Verifications, an aircraft appraisal firm.