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August 29, 2010

Harmless tailpipe fire may’ve triggered panic aboard flight

Filed under: Incidents — aerotowfeeq @ 1:54 pm
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(COURTESY AEROTOWFEEQ.IN )

It might have been a harmless ‘tailpipe fire,’ a mild momentary flame that happens when excess fuel in the engine passes out of the exhaust when the pilot starts the engine or opens power, that triggered panic on board Chennai-bound 9W2302 at Mumbai airport on Friday, resulting in injuries to 15 passengers. Tailpipe fire usually lasts for a few seconds and does not pose a danger to the aircraft.

While a preliminary inspection has found that there was no fire in the engine, sources told TOI the ‘fire’ was first reported by a Jet Airways crew member who was travelling as a passenger, along with three of his colleagues. He was among the eight crew members who were later suspended.

”He saw the flame and mistook it for an engine fire. He told the crew on duty that there was a suspected fire in the left side engine. The crew did not react the ideal way, panicked and misinformed the commander. Some passengers who may have overheard the crew opened the over-wing exit and started jumping off,” an insider said. It, however, remains unknown when and why the captain ordered evacuation. ”Since there was no fire alert in the cockpit, the captain should have ascertained the facts before ordering evacuation. As of now, we don’t know the real reason,” said aviation expert Captain A Ranganathan.

Sources in Jet Airways said the captain was a senior person with more than 9,000 hours of flying experience. ”Only the cockpit voice recorder can tell us when and why the captain ordered evacuation happened. Probably he was forced to do that as people started jumping out,” the insider said. Overheating of engine or fire in any part of the aircraft would flash a red light in the cockpit and set off an alarm bell, but tailpipe fire does not trigger the alert. ”Tailpipe fire seems to be the probable reason, but other probabilities are being looked into, as the flame was noticed while aircraft was taxiing. Though tailpipe fire happens mostly when engine is switched on, it has been noticed also during taxiing,” a pilot said.

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