Children treated after plane dumps fuel over Los Angeles schools

Children treated after plane dumps fuel over Los Angeles schools

An airliner with engine trouble dumped jet fuel that fell on dozens of schoolchildren while the plane made an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport.

The fuel, described by fire officials as a vapour, caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults but nobody was taken to hospital and the only decontamination required was soap and water, officials said.

Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai reported an engine problem only minutes after take-off.

“Delta 89, heavy, we have engine compressor stalls on the right engine,” the pilot reported to air traffic control, according to a recording of the radio conversation.

Emergency crews walk between a group of ambulances parked by Park Avenue Elementary School  (Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP)
Emergency crews walk between a group of ambulances parked by Park Avenue Elementary School (Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP)

A stall, which can be caused by damage to a turbine, either from a malfunction or sometimes by a bird striking the engine, reduces the engine thrust.

The pilot was asked whether he wanted to keep the aircraft over the ocean to dump fuel but declined, although it appears he may have changed his mind later about whether the plane could safely land weighing as much as it did.

The fuel sprayed out of the plane in two lines and descended at midday in the city of Cudahy and nearby parts of Los Angeles County, about 13 miles east of the airport.

The mist fell on five schools, but all injuries were minor and there were not any evacuations, said Los Angeles County Fire Department inspector Sky Cornell.

“That’s a great sign,” Mr Cornell said.

All the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground, he said.

Diego Martinez, a pupil at Park Avenue Elementary, said he and his classmates were outside for physical education class when they saw the plane flying low overhead.

“It was very close,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, the air filled with the pungent odour of fuel.

“It was very strong, the odour,” the 12-year-old said.

The boy was not doused but some of his friends complained that their skin was itching.

Parents and children leave Park Avenue Elementary after jet fuel fell on the school in Cudahy (Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP)
Parents and children leave Park Avenue Elementary after jet fuel fell on the school in Cudahy (Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP)

Some teachers at Park Avenue had headaches from the smell, said Antonio Buenabad, area representative for the United Teachers Los Angeles union.

“They were anxious to get home and shower because the stench was very strong,” he said of the teachers.

Delta Air Lines said the aircraft landed safely after releasing fuel, “which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight”.

The FlightAware website’s flight track showed the jet took off over the ocean and made an immediate right turn towards land and circled back over southern California to approach the airport from the east.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it is investigating.

“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major US airport,” the FAA said in a statement.

“These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomises and disperses before it reaches the ground.”

However, pilots can deviate from the rules in an emergency for safety reasons, said Doug Moss, a retired airline captain and owner of AeroPacific Consulting, an aviation consulting firm based in Nevada.

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