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Passenger plane catches fire at Fort Lauderdale airport

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 29, 2015

Firefighters walk past a burned out engine of a Dynamic Airways Boeing 767, Thursday at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Dania Beach, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Firefighters walk past a burned out engine of a Dynamic Airways Boeing 767, Thursday at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Dania Beach, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Rebeca Piccardo And Wayne K. Roustan Tribune News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Panicked passengers shoved their way down the aisle and escaped on emergency chutes Thursday as flames engulfed one side of a jetliner before takeoff in Florida, sending black clouds of billowing smoke skyward.

An engine on the taxiing aircraft had burst into flames on Dynamic International Airways’ Flight 405 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. About 21 travelers suffered mostly minor injuries; none was burned.

David Magro, 22, and his sister Daniela Magro, 20, were flying home to Venezuela for a cousin’s wedding. He was reading his iPad when she saw smoke outside. Fear erupted in the cabin, which was about half full with travelers who jumped from their seats.

“I was freaking out,” Daniela Magro said. “I was terrified so I started pushing people, but my brother calmed me down.”

The siblings, both students in Melbourne, left belongings, including their cellphones, behind.

“Some people were not calm,” David Magro said. “I was one of the last people to get out.”

The Magros were among 101 passengers and crew inside the Boeing 767 jetliner who escaped the fire by sliding down emergency chutes.

The injured, including a man, 62, who fell and hurt his head while running on the tarmac, and a boy, 4, were taken to hospitals, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles said.

Most had minor injuries, including bumps, bruises and sprains or were stressed from the experience, he said.

Late Thursday, only three people were still hospitalized.

Flight 405 was a charter flight bound for Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas.

At about 12:30 p.m., an aircraft taxiing behind the Dynamic jet reported fuel was leaking from it before the fire began, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said.

Airport fire-rescue trucks quickly surrounded the twin-engine airliner and doused the blaze with foam. After the smoke and fire were extinguished, the red and white plane’s left wing, fuselage and engine were left charred.

Uninjured passengers were taken to a family assistance center inside the terminal.

By Thursday evening, 218 incoming and outgoing flights had been delayed and 43 flights scheduled to arrive and depart were canceled, airport spokesman Allan Siegel said.

All flights had been suspended at 1:45 p.m., and another airport spokesman, Gregory Meyer, predicted then that air traffic would slow “in a domino effect” along the Eastern Seaboard.

Ninety minutes later, the airport reopened its south runway to allow air traffic to resume. The north runway reopened at 7:45 p.m. and all operations returned to normal.

Meanwhile, in the hours after the blaze firefighters kept their nozzles aimed at the hot engine in case flames erupted, he said.

Dynamic International Airways said in an emailed statement that its flight crew became aware of an engine problem, shut it down and began evacuation procedures.

“Safety of our passengers and crew members is the first priority of Dynamic International Airways,” the statement said.

Esther Summer, 72, of Boca Raton, Florida, was in the terminal and waiting to fly Southwest Airlines to Hartford, Connecticut, when she saw the jet ablaze on the tarmac.

“The bottom of the plane was in flames,” Summer said. “That burned itself out and the smoke just plumed. People were coming down the slides.”

Summer was impressed with the emergency evacuation. “They cleared that plane beautifully and quickly,” she said.

Dynamic said it was arranging for transportation and accommodations for Flight 405’s passengers. It expected to resume flight schedules Friday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that it was sending a four-person team to investigate the incident.

The Boeing 767 that caught fire appears to be the airline’s first serious accident, safety board records show. It was manufactured in 1986 and was one of the earliest versions of that airliner.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has a good safety record more than a half-century long.

Thursday’s accident was one of the few serious incidents at the airfield, which has not seen a fatal airliner crash on or near it since commercial airline service began there in 1959.

The fire was also the most serious blaze there since May 1972, when an Eastern Airlines DC-9 crash-landed on a runway during a thunderstorm. That jet broke apart and into flames. None of the six passengers or four crew members aboard was seriously injured.

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