Tue | Jan 19, 2021

FAA investigating Delta jet fuel-dumping on schoolkids

Published:Wednesday | January 15, 2020 | 8:55 AM
Firefighters allow parents into Park Avenue Elementary School where multiple people were treated for jet fuel exposure in Cudahy, California on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. (Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP)

CUDAHY, California (AP) — Federal authorities will investigate why an airliner with engine trouble dumped jet fuel over a densely populated area of Southern California while making an emergency return to the airport, dousing dozens of schoolchildren in a smelly vapour.

Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, with 181 passengers and crew on board, turned back to Los Angeles International Airport only minutes after taking off Tuesday.

The pilot reported a compressor stall in the right engine — damage to a jet turbine that can occur through malfunction or when a foreign object such as a bird hits an engine.

The damage can reduce engine thrust or, in worst cases, lead to a fire. Planes can take off weighted down for their journey, but if they must land early because of an emergency, it can be necessary to dump fuel so that the aircraft is lighter to avoid damage.

Air traffic control asked the aircrew if they wanted to return to LAX immediately or remain over the ocean “to hold and burn fuel,” according to a recording of the radio communications.

“We’re going to go ahead,” the pilot or co-pilot responds. “We’ve got it back under control. ... We’re not critical.”

“OK, so you don’t need to hold or dump fuel or anything like that?” the controller asks.

“Ah, negative,” the pilot responds.

But the plane did later dump fuel, possibly while preparing to make a final turn before descending.

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.

It fell on five elementary schools, officials said.

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 the hospital and the only decontamination required was soap and water, officials said.

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