LAS VEGAS (AP) — A British Airways airplane was accelerating for takeoff when it caught fire on the runway at the Las Vegas airport, forcing the pilot to hit the brakes, fire officials said Wednesday.
The blaze Tuesday sent smoke pouring from an engine and led passengers and crew to flee down emergency slides. The plane was leaving for a 10-hour flight to London with 157 passengers aboard.
Clark County Fire officials said at a news conference they had fire engines rolling within 45 seconds of a 4:13 p.m. call from the tower. They had water on the fire within two minutes, and by 4:18 it was out.
Fire officials said the blaze was confined to the left engine, and there was no wheel or brake fire.
The evacuation also took only minutes and appeared orderly, with some passengers even making it out with their luggage. Passengers slid off the plane and hurried across the tarmac as flames leaped from the Boeing 777-200 and dark black smoke billowed.
Officials also said Wednesday more people were injured than previously reported. A total of 27 people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, most with cuts, bruises, burns and scrapes from the evacuation slide. At least two complained of smoke inhalation.
Meanwhile, officials have turned their attention to the cause of the British Airways Flight 2276 fire, though so far little has been said about how a plane speeding down a runway for takeoff could suddenly catch on fire — or whether it could happen again.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was traveling to Las Vegas from Washington, D.C., agency spokesman Eric Weiss said. Preliminary reports usually are issued within about a week, and a complete investigation in unusual or precedent-setting cases can take more than a year.
“We’re calling it an engine fire,” Weiss said. “We’re interested in the exact chain of events.”
On social media, photos and videos showing passengers who deplaned with their rolling luggage and personal items were talked about and mocked, although the evacuation was described as orderly and didn’t appear to be affected by people taking their belongings.
Passenger Karen Bravo, 60, of Las Vegas, said she happened to have her purse and some other passengers had carry-on luggage.
“It would be like if your whole house was on fire and you had to go out the door,” she said.
The checked bags weren’t damaged, but passengers hadn’t gotten them back as of Wednesday morning. They were told that another plane was on its way and they should be departing for London Wednesday.
The Association of Flight Attendants, which does not represent the British Airways crew, said the workers would have encouraged passengers to evacuate without their belongings for efficiency.
The crippled aircraft has been towed to an airport apron, away from terminals, and the runway that had been closed reopened about midnight, airport spokesman Chris Jones said.
Reggie Bugmuncher, of Philadelphia, was charging her phone and waiting at a gate Tuesday for her flight from McCarran International Airport when she heard people saying, “Oh, my God.” She looked out and saw “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,” Bugmuncher said.
Jones said passengers were taken by the airline to hotels but he had no additional information on their travel plans. British Airways said it is providing passengers with hotels and whatever else they may need, and added that the safety of its customers and crew is a top priority.
The Federal Aviation Administration 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 Boeing 777 made two of the airport’s four runways inaccessible. One of the runways reopened about 2 1/2 hours after the fire.
Las Vegas’ airport is the ninth-busiest in the U.S. and had nearly 43 million passengers last year. The airport has been taking steps to accommodate more international travelers seeking direct flights to Europe and Asia, including adding new gates to accommodate wide-body double-decker jets.
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