The Pilots Who Bombarded School Children With Jet Fuel Are Now Under Investigation For The Incident
Believe it or not, it’s quite common for airplanes to dump jet fuel when they’re facing an emergency landing. They do this so that if anything happens during landing – like a blown out tire – the likelihood of an explosion or major fire is much less.
But a recent incident in the skies over Los Angeles highlight the dangers of the practice – particularly when done over populated communities.
A Delta Airlines aircraft headed to Shanghai faced an emergency landing and dumped a huge amount of fuel over LA-area communities.
Delta Air Lines said the fuel came from Flight 89, which had just taken off from LAX bound for Shanghai, China, when it “experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return quickly to LAX.””The aircraft landed safely after a release of fuel, which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight,” the airline said.
The fuel was dropped in populated communities – including an area containing six different schools.
Sixty people were treated after a plane dumped jet fuel while returning to the Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday, hitting five elementary schools and one high school.
The incident happened just after noon Tuesday, inspector Sean Ferguson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told CNN. The most heavily affected school was Park Avenue Elementary in Cudahy, where 20 children and 11 adults reported minor injuries. The school is about 19 miles east of the airport.
After checking all of the affected schools later Tuesday, hazardous materials experts said there was no more danger, fire department officials said. All schools will be open and operating on their normal schedules Wednesday.
“With the monitoring devices that we have, there are no explosive limits that are being detected at all, as well as solid or liquid products remaining,” Battalion Chief Jason Robertson said in a news conference, adding that the fire department believes all of the jet fuel has evaporated.
More than 60 people were treated on the scene and dozens more needed to be decontaminated.
Some people who were hit by the jet fuel Tuesday were decontaminated with soap and water, but no one at any site needed to be taken to the hospital, Sgt. Rudy Perez with the Los Angeles School Police Department said. The schools briefly went through shelter-in-place procedures, but there were no evacuations.
The children were given gowns so they could change out of their clothes, fire department inspector Sky Cornell said, adding there were no reports of injuries from other people in the area.
Miguel Cervantes, a sixth grader, was hit. He said his skin was itchy afterward.”I thought it was smoke,” he said. “But when it went down, I felt it and it smelled like gas.”
According to the FAA, the pilots failed to notify them of the fuel drop.
“A review of yesterday’s air traffic control communications shows the Delta Flight 89 crew did not tell air traffic control that they needed to dump fuel,” said the U.S. regulator. “In this emergency situation, the fuel-dumping procedure did not occur at an optimal altitude that would have allowed the fuel to atomize properly.”
While there is no regulation requiring such notice, it’s common practice so that flight controllers can direct the plane to an appropriate area to drop the fuel, the FAA said in an email Wednesday.
Now authorities are investigating why the pilots decided to drop fuel so urgently if they weren’t faced with a serious crisis.
The Boeing 777-200 suffered an engine compressor stall after leaving Los Angeles International for Shanghai, and the pilots notified air traffic control that the aircraft would need to return to the airport. The FAA continues to investigate the incident. Delta said it helped clean up the fuel at the schools, but declined to comment on the FAA statement or any aspect of the probe.
While it’s unclear how serious the emergency on the Delta flight was, pilots have discretion to ignore some FAA rules while faced with a dangerous situation. The crew members told controllers their situation was “not critical,” according to a recording posted by LiveATC.net.
Jetliners dump fuel in an emergency to lower their weight for landing. While the plane was capable of taking off, its weight with a full fuel load would have made it heavier than optimal for landing. Landing at higher weights causes stress on brakes and tires that can trigger fires or other issues.