CHICAGO — Passengers aboard an American Airlines flight that suffered an engine failure and fire last year climbed over seats and pressured flight attendants to evacuate the plane as the second engine continued to run, according to National Transportation Safety Board documents released Thursday.
No one was killed following the engine explosion and fire on Miami-bound Flight 383 as it rolled down a runway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Oct. 28 with 161 passengers and nine crew members. The NTSB has not determined what caused the incident, saying an investigation could go on for months.
According to the NTSB, passengers said they heard a loud bang during takeoff and the aircraft wobbled. Flames were detected almost immediately. Passengers moved from the right side of the plane to the left, shouting at flight attendants to open emergency doors as the plane came to a halt and the cabin filled with smoke. The effort to evacuate the plane was hindered by the undamaged engine still running.
One passenger told investigators he could see flames coming from the right wing and windows on that side of the aircraft began to crack. He said the crew was telling passengers to stay in their seats, and thinking that was odd because the right side of the plane was in flames.
“He stated the only thing to do was get out of the airplane fast, which he did,” the NTSB reported.
The passenger said he opened a left exit hatch, climbed on the wing and tumbled down the slide, resulting in an injury. He said he stood up to get away from the plane and was blown over by the thrust of the still-running left engine.
In all, one person was seriously hurt and 20 others suffered minor injuries.
Flight attendant Beth Wheeler said she heard a loud sound, the plane began to fishtail, and she saw flames over the right wing. Passengers began screaming and jumping from their seats before the plane had stopped. Wheeler said flight attendants were trying to call the pilots to ask them to shut down the engines while passengers pleaded to get off the plane. One tried to reach around two flight attendants to open a door, she said.
Flight attendants eventually opened some doors, deploying evacuation slides before the pilot gave the order to do so. Despite instructions from flight attendants, some passengers brought bags with them during the evacuation.
The captain described hearing a “ka-boom” and felt pressure, like running over a pothole at high speed.
“We rolled about another three seconds before I subconsciously said to myself that the explosion seemed way more powerful than what I would expect as the result of a blown tire,” said Anthony Paul Kochenash in a statement to investigators. When he realized it was an engine problem, he aborted the takeoff, and his co-pilot radioed the tower to say they were stopping on the runway.
An air traffic controller told the crew there was a fire. The pilots shut down the engines and discharged fire retardant into one. They could hear commotion behind them as passengers escaped the plane. Kochenash said when the pilots left the cockpit they were told by a flight attendant that everyone else was out of the plane. He said he couldn’t see more than two feet because of the thick, black smoke.
Although no conclusion has been reached on why the engine failed, the NTSB determined a high-pressure turbine disk in the Boeing 767’s right engine broke into four pieces, which shot out of the engine’s housing. Disk pieces were found up to a half mile away.
The NTSB has identified at least three previous uncontained engine failures in commercial airliners in which a disk from the same family of GE engines broke apart — two on the ground in the United States in 2000 and 2006, and one while an Air New Zealand plane was climbing after takeoff on a flight from Australia to New Zealand in 2002. That flight was able to make an emergency landing.
The plane in Chicago was traveling at 154 mph and was seconds from lifting off when pilots slammed the brakes.
The fire was fed by a pool of jet fuel that formed under the wing when the plane came to a stop.