On Tuesday, September 8th, at about 4:13 pm Pacific time, a British Airways Boeing 777-200 headed for London caught fire as it was going down the runway for takeoff at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. The left engine of the plane, manufactured by General Electric, ignited; no cause has been determined as of yet. The National Transportation Safety Board has begun an investigation into the event. All 157 passengers and 13 crew members evacuated the plane safety, and no major injuries were reported, with only 14 suffering minor injuries.

(David Somers/AP)

According to the Washington Post, “effective management of the situation was what prevented it from becoming a tragedy.” The BBC also reports that “many passengers have praised the actions of the British Airways pilot” who called for the evacuation. Passengers and crew were able to evacuate down the inflatable slides at the plane’s emergency exits.

The Guardian reports that the disaster (or lack thereof) “underlines advances in aviation safety, according to experts” who see similarities with past incidents that resulted in high fatalities. One example given is another engine fire during take-off in Manchester in 1985, which resulted in the deaths 55 of the 137 passengers aboard. The safety policies instituted after that and other disasters may have helped save the lives of the passengers during this incident.

As smoothly as the evacuation went, it was not with trouble – pilots are criticizing passengers who stopped to pick up carry-on luggage before evacuating. Not only is this against the instructions of the British Airways pre-flight briefing, but it is prohibited by the Civil Aviation Authority rules, which prohibit actions that could endanger an aircraft or the persons within it.

The fire shut down one of the four runways at the airport for several hours. McCarran International served over 40 million passengers last year.

Sources and Further Reading:
1. Quick action averts disaster as flames and smoke engulf London bound jetliner – Washington Post
2. Aviation safety advances helped stave off BA plane fire disaster – The Guardian
3. BA plane fire: Pilots condemn passengers who carried baggage from burning aircraft – The Independent
4. BA Fire: Passengers describe terror on Las Vegas flight – BBC