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'Flawless' response to Las Vegas plane fire hailed

Published 10/09/2015

Damage is visible on the British Airways Boeing 777-200 at McCarran International Airport (AP)
Damage is visible on the British Airways Boeing 777-200 at McCarran International Airport (AP)

The response of a British Airways plane crew to an engine fire as the aircraft prepared to fly from Las Vegas to London has been described as "flawless" by aviation observers.

Passengers described their terror after the fire broke out on the Gatwick-bound BA Flight 2276 as it accelerated for take-off at McCarran International Airport.

The Boeing 777's 157 passengers and 13 crew members escaped on its emergency slides before rushing across the tarmac, unsure if they were fleeing a bomb or a blown tire.

Passenger Karen Bravo, a 60-year-old Las Vegas resident, said: "Everyone was screaming, 'Just keep on running.'

"It was like a scene out of Die Hard."

Firefighters responded quickly, and the flames did not reach the plane's full fuel tank or breach the cabin.

The passengers and crew all made it off the plane, and any injuries were minor - a result of the bumps, bruises and scrapes from sliding from an plane.

The 27 people sent to a hospital were treated and released the same day. They included all 13 crew members.

The ordeal began as the plane sped down the runway for takeoff.

With the aircraft travelling anywhere from 40 to 100mph, the pilot brought it to an abrupt halt.

"Mayday, mayday," said the calm, deliberate voice from the plane's cockpit to the air traffic control tower, requesting help with a fire.

"We are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire. I repeat. We are evacuating," the voice said.

From the fire's start to its quick end - and an evacuation in between - the whole episode lasted five minutes.

Fire officials and airline observers described the response as flawless, the result of daily training that made the Boeing 777's rare blown engine seem routine.

They also noted the number of passengers on the plane was far below its capacity of 275.

No-one knows yet what caused the blaze, and investigators have arrived in Las Vegas to find out.

"We're interested in the exact chain of events," said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss.

Terrorism is not suspected; airport director Rosemary Vassiliadis said there was "no indication whatsoever" it was a factor.

The plane had two GE90 engines made by GE Aviation, and the company said heat distress was evident on the left side's engine and fuselage.

The plane was built in 1998 and registered to British Airways a year later. By the end of 2013, it had been flown for 76,618 hours, according to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.

That is about average for that model of aircraft, said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and a captain with US Airways for 23 years.

"It has a remarkably good safety record," he said of the 777 model, first introduced in 1994.

"This is a highly unusual event to have an engine failure of this magnitude."

Las Vegas' McCarran airport is the ninth-busiest in the US and had nearly 43 million passengers last year.

The airport has been taking steps to accommodate more international travellers seeking direct flights to Europe and Asia, including adding new gates to accommodate wide-body double-decker jets.

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