Plane malfunction sends jet engine debris over Chicago area
An American Airlines jet engine that failed seconds before takeoff in a fiery runway accident at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport flung broken turbine parts as far as half a mile from the scene, a federal investigator said on Saturday.
Disclosure of the "uncontained" failure," in which internal engine parts breach the protective housing designed to keep them safely enclosed, even in a breakdown, came a day after a mishap that authorities said neared the point of disaster but caused no serious injuries.
Shrapnel escaping from the engine's outer cover can tear through the cabin or rupture fuel tanks in the wings.
Such engine failures are extremely rare, and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators were looking for clues as to whether the fault lay with the engine itself, with its manufacture or a freak event such as debris on the runway entering the engine.
The General Electric engine that powered the plane was a workhorse model known as the CF6, introduced decades ago, GE spokesman Rick Kennedy told Reuters on Saturday. The American Airlines plane engine dates from the 1980s or 1990s, and had been serviced by the airline, he said.
American Airlines Flight 383, a twin-engine Boeing 767 bound for Miami with 161 passengers and a crew of nine, was headed down a runway for departure when the right-side engine failed, forcing the crew to abort takeoff, authorities said.
Leaking jet fuel caught fire under the wing, as the crew evacuated passengers via emergency exit chutes from the left side of the plane, and fire crews arrived to begin pouring foam on the flames within minutes.
One flight attendant and 19 passengers suffered minor injuries in their escape.
NTSB investigator Lorenda Ward told reporters at O'Hare on Saturday that while flames never breached the plane's cabin, some smoke did, though city fire officials have said no one suffered from smoke inhalation or burns.
City fire department officials said on Friday the plane was 15 to 20 seconds from becoming airborne, fully loaded with 43,000 pounds of jet fuel. Ward said the aircraft stopped about 3,000 feet from the end of the runway. "That's a lot of runway to have left," she said.