Most people have probably seen the news these last two days covering the dramatic scene of the burning 767 at Chicago. The incident was a surprise to many. I was actually working line service at the Battle Creek airport when I saw a video on my phone with footage from a passenger evacuating.
At first I didn’t think it was a major problem; the initial word going around was that the plane had blown a tire, and the resulting fire was just from the brakes/rubber overheating. In most cases these fires are very small and easily contained; several times when this has happened before the pilots kept people on the plane until emergency responders contained the fire, since it’s generally safer inside the protected fuselage than it is outside and exposed to flying debris.
Very soon after it became clear that the tires were not the main problem. As it turns out the entire right side of the plane went up in flames, presumably from an uncontained engine failure that spread to the wing and other parts of the plane. I believe that the flight crew made the right decisions: first aborting the takeoff and then immediately evacuating everyone out from the left side of the aircraft. According to various news articles that I have been reading, around 25 passengers reported minor injuries, but there no major injuries or fatalities. One article mentioned that a fan blade from the engine had been found quite a distance off the runway, suggesting some type of blade or disc failure. (This reminds me of the Qantas A380 incident for some reason)
It’s too early to actually say what caused the incident, but I think it’s clear the flight crew and emergency responders handled the situation very professionally. I’m going to continue to watch for updates on this story and for the official NTSB that will eventually be released. Especially with the possibility of it being a structural or design problem in the engine, I wouldn’t be surprised if this investigation takes quite some time and continues to make the news in the next few months.