Federal investigators would like to know how and why a Delta Airlines craft dumped jet fuel on a populated area over Los Angeles, California, injuring several schoolchildren in the process, The Associated Press reports.
As reported at the time by The Inquisitr, on Tuesday, Delta Flight 89 departed Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), bound for Shanghai, but experienced an engine issue, later deemed to be possibly due to a bird or other foreign object striking an engine, and had to turn around. As is customary when a plane must make an unscheduled landing, the pilot dumped the plane’s fuel in order to reduce its landing weight.
Normally, such fuel dumps are done at a high altitude where the fuel simply atomizes and doesn’t fall to the ground. However, in this case, the plane was at a low-enough altitude — estimated to be at about 4,000 to 5,000 feet — that when it dumped the fuel, it fell to the ground. Beneath the aircraft was Park Avenue Elementary School, where dozens of children were outside playing.
The fuel fell onto the playground, and several kids and adults reported having breathing and skin issues.
Transcripts of communications between the aircraft and the tower seem to indicate that dumping the fuel at such a low altitude, and over a populated area, might not have been necessary.
At one point, Air Traffic Control (ATC) asked the flight crew if they could fly over the ocean and burn off or dump its fuel there.
“We’re going to go ahead. We’ve got it back under control…. We’re not critical,” either the pilot or co-pilot said.
ATC then asked for confirmation on whether or not the flight’s issues were a severe-enough emergency that required dumping the fuel immediately.
“OK, so you don’t need to hold or dump fuel or anything like that?,” ATC asked.
“Ah, negative,” the pilot responds.
Nevertheless, the craft did, in fact, dump the fuel at a low altitude and over a densely-populated area.
Initial reports listed the number of injured at 17 children and nine adults. Updated estimates say that at least 56 children were injured. None of the injuries were severe enough to require a trip to the hospital.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now investigating the incident. Particularly, the agency is interested in why the craft dumped its fuel at low altitude over a densely-populated area, especially when the Pacific Ocean was right nearby.
“[Regular] procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” the agency said.
The agency did note that, in emergencies, the fuel can be dumped at lower altitudes and/or overpopulated areas. But the FAA is trying to determine whether or not Flight 89’s issue was just such an emergency.
Doug Moss, a retired airline captain and the owner of AeroPacific Consulting LLC, said that the type of engine damage the craft suffered could have constituted a dire emergency.
“He’s flying an airplane with a damaged engine that may be on fire. So he has to make the decision: Do I spend the time to dump fuel or do I put this thing on the ground as soon as I can? You’re not going to kill anyone by dumping fuel,” Moss said.
Dumping the fuel over the Pacific Ocean could have added an additional half-hour to an hour of flight time, Moss adds.