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Dubai heat may have sparked fireball after jet crash landed

By Sally Wardle

Published 04/08/2016

The remnants of the Emirates airliner on the runway in Dubai
The remnants of the Emirates airliner on the runway in Dubai
Mobile phone pictures of the crash, which left a firefighter dead
Mobile phone pictures of the crash, which left a firefighter dead
Mobile phone pictures of the crash, which left a firefighter dead

Hot weather could have been responsible for the fireball that followed the crash-landing of an Emirates airliner at Dubai’s main airport which left one firefighter dead, an aviation expert has said.

Flight EK521, which was carrying 282 passengers — including 24 Britons and four Irish nationals — and 18 crew members, was arriving from the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the accident happened at about 12.45pm local time yesterday.

One firefighter died battling the blaze on the plane while saving the lives of others, according to the Government of Dubai’s media office.

All passengers and crew were safely accounted for, the airline said. Emirates chairman and chief executive Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum told a press conference that 10 people had been admitted to hospital after the incident.

Early indications suggested that the plane, a Boeing 777, was not at fault and other factors would have been involved, according to expert David Learmount.

“The images tell us nothing except the aircraft eventually caught fire, but they certainly don’t tell us why it did,” he said.

“It was an incredibly hot day, it was very nearly 50 degrees.

“If you get a damaged wing and fuel comes out of it, it vaporises in temperatures like that and vapour is highly inflammable.”

He said temperature was “very likely” to have been a factor and that the crash should not prompt concerns about the safety of the plane.

“There have been accidents where 777s have been very badly damaged during a landing and yet we haven’t had a fire like that,” he said.

Mr Learmount said the crew acted in line with protocol by evacuating all passengers.

“If there is a fire, or a risk of a fire, then the drill for every crew for every aeroplane flight in the world is to get the passengers off very fast, because if you don’t it’s a disaster,” he said.

“Did they do well? No, they did what they were paid for.”

According to air traffic control recordings obtained by Aviation Herald magazine, controllers at Dubai had reminded the crew of the Boeing 777 to lower the landing gear as it approached.

Shortly afterwards, the crew reportedly announced they were aborting the landing to “go around” — a routine procedure for which pilots are well trained — but the aircraft came to rest near the end of the runway instead.

Iype Vallikadan, a reporter from India’s Mathrubhumi News, was told by passengers that the pilot spoke to them as the plane neared Dubai to say there was a problem with the landing gear and that he would make an emergency landing.

The crew then conducted a full evacuation using the plane’s emergency exits and slides.

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