Crew commended for swift, calm handling of Florida plane fire

Although a Venezuela-bound plane in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., caught fire on the runway, the injuries its passengers sustained were minor thanks to a quick and responsive crew.

Wilfredo Lee/AP
Firefighters walk past a burned engine of an airplane, Thursday, at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Dania Beach, Fla. The passenger plane's engine caught fire Thursday as it prepared for takeoff, and passengers had to quickly evacuate on the runway using emergency slides, officials said. The Dynamic Airways flight was headed to Caracas, Venezuela.

A fire on a South Florida plane bound for Venezuela resulted in a massive evacuation of the plane, with twenty-two of its passengers being taken to the hospital for evaluation.

But most of those injuries were minor bumps and bruises, Broward County Sheriff's Office spokesman Michael Jachles told Reuters, and both of the patients who were admitted to the hospital remain in stable condition.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft had been leaking fuel before departure, and a jet that had been taxiing behind sent a message to the crew warning it about the leak.

The jet’s engine caught fire before takeoff on Thursday, prompting the plane’s more than 100 passengers to evacuate using emergency slides.

"I heard a loud bang. I turned around, saw the lights, saw the flames and I ran to the front of the aircraft," Andres Gallegos, one of the passengers on the 767, told The Associated Press. "It was pretty nerve-racking, knowing that the door wasn't opening and that something was on fire."

Many other passengers noted that the crew was prompt, calm, and gracious in responding to the crisis. Officials associated with the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport said that the fire was controlled and put out in less than four minutes.  

"Operations-wise and safety-wise, it couldn't have worked any better," Kent George, the airport's director of aviation, told reporters.

Three hours after the incident, the airport was reopened, and both of its runways were again fully operational on Friday, although cleanup of the fuel that had spilled continued. Mr. George told reporters that repairs would be completed by the weekend.

The plane was operated by a small Virginia-based company called Dynamic, which along with small aviation companies has taken over responsibility for flights to and from Venezuela from larger carriers. But these smaller companies have struggled to acquire replacement parts for their planes because of the economic crisis that has plagued that country for the past year and a half, resulting in exorbitantly high inflation rates.

The FAA said that the plane had not had any previous issues. The plane was last inspected in June and recently had a new engine put in.

"It's just a very unusual event. Something malfunctioned. We're not aware of what happened," Don Dodson, director of operations for Dynamic Airways, told AP.

Representatives from the FAA, Dynamic, and the National Transportation Safety Board, among other groups, will be gathering in Fort Lauderdale to investigate the fire.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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