SEATTLE – A serious in-flight fire in the electrical equipment bay of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight test plane forced an emergency landing Tuesday in Laredo, Texas. All 30 to 40 people aboard were safely evacuated on slides.
The fire affected the cockpit controls and the jet lost its primary flight displays and its auto-throttle, according to a person familiar with the incident. The pilot lost some use of the flight and engine controls, which on the Dreamliner are electrically activated, this person said.
The smoke in the back of the cabin of Dreamliner No. 2, where a team of flight technicians sat at computer workstations monitoring the flight data, was first detected on approach to the Laredo airport after six hours of flying.
As the incident escalated, the pilot declared an emergency, landed the plane, and activated the emergency slides.
“The aircraft landed at Laredo at about 2:54 Central Time,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford. “The aircraft was evacuated on the runway. They pulled the slides.”
Flames were observed in the rear electrical/electronics bay, which is underneath the passenger cabin, said two people who were informed of the details.
“If this had happened at 25,000 feet, we might be talking about something much more serious,” said a person close to the situation.
Boeing released few details about the incident Tuesday, and spokeswoman Lori Gunter said it’s too early to speculate on the cause.
It’s also too early to tell if this incident will affect the flight test program and defer the Dreamliner’s delivery. Boeing already faces an unprecedented delay of nearly three years due to supply chain issues in building the jets.