By Timothy Mclaughlin
The engine of an American Airlines Group Inc jet caught fire seconds from takeoff at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday, prompting the crew to abort its departure and evacuate passengers via emergency chutes, authorities said.
No serious injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred hours before an unrelated mishap in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the landing gear of a FedEx Corp cargo plane collapsed on touchdown, sparking a fire that was quickly extinguished.
The company later said the FedEx pilots were safe.
American Airlines Flight 383, a Boeing Co 767 bound for Miami with 161 passengers and a crew of nine, was headed down an O’Hare runway at about 2:30 p.m. CDT (1930 GMT) when the right-side engine of the twin-engine jet burst into flames, authorities said.
Footage from Chicago’s ABC News affiliate station, WLS-TV, showed the idled plane on the ground with flames and large clouds of black smoke billowing from its right side and emergency slides deployed on the left side. Passengers milled about watching the blaze as fire trucks pumped water on the flames.
Timothy Sampey, assistant deputy fire commissioner, said the mishap could have been much worse.
The plane was fully loaded with 43,000 lbs (19,504 kg) of jet fuel, which was leaking when fire crews reached the jet, Sampey told a news conference later.
“So they had a heavy volume of fire on both the engine and the entire wing,” he said. “This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later.”
Sampey confirmed the incident began with a fire in the right-side engine.
The plane’s CF6 engine, the “workhorse” of the commercial aviation industry, was built by General Electric Co, and GE dispatched investigators to the scene, the company said.
The Federal Aviation Administration initially said the pilot aborted takeoff after reporting a blown-out tire. But city fire spokesman Larry Langford said he saw no blown tires at the scene.
Langford said 19 passengers and one flight attendant were taken to a hospital with minor injuries – such as bumps, bruises and sprained ankles – suffered in exiting the plane. There were no burns or cases of smoke inhalation.
“The fire never got into the cabin,” he said. “This happened so close to one of the airport fire stations that they were on it in a minute.” He said the plane was 15 to 20 seconds away from being airborne when the fire erupted.
Inside the aircraft after it came to a stop, frantic passengers shouted at each other to hurry while making their way down the aisle to an emergency exit slide, as seen in a video posted on Facebook by passenger Hector Gustavo Cardenas.
The incident forced the closure of at least three of the airport’s eight runways, the city Aviation Department said.
By about two hours after the incident, the airport had experienced 130 delays of departing flights and 170 inbound flights, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.
The Fort Lauderdale airport said 29 flights were diverted due to the FedEx plane incident, but the facility was later reopened to air traffic.
As the Chicago mishap unfolded, O’Hare’s tower controllers began ordering inbound planes to abort landing approaches and “go around,” initially closing all runways so emergency vehicles could reach the stricken aircraft, according to audio recordings of the main tower frequency posted by the website liveatc.net.
Operations later resumed on the north side of O’Hare airport, one of the world’s busiest, according to web tracking sites and a live feed of tower conversations from liveatc.net.