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PAL jet with flaming engine returns safely to LA airport

/ 04:30 AM November 23, 2019

LOS ANGELES—A Philippine Airlines (PAL) Boeing 777 jet with flames spurting from one engine returned safely to Los Angeles International Airport just after takeoff on Thursday.

Flight PR113, which was bound for Manila, reported a problem with the right engine and turned around, landing around noon, said Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration.

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“The flight crew elected to turn back to the airport and make a precautionary emergency landing,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said in a statement.

The plane took off at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday (3:45 a.m. Friday Manila time) and landed about 15 minutes later after experiencing a “technical problem” in one of its engines, PAL said.

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“All 342 passengers and 18 crew members are safe and were able to disembark from the airplane using regular airstairs,” it said. “We greatly appreciate the calmness and patience of our PR113 passengers, who cooperated well with our cabin crew during the flight and the emergency landing.”

Villaluna said PAL was also extending all assistance to the passengers and making arrangements to rebook them on alternative flights to Manila. They were also given meals and hotel accommodation.

However, it wasn’t immediately clear when they might board other flights.

‘Flashes of light’

Passengers and people on the ground videotaped repeated blasts of flame coming from the right engine of the jet minutes after takeoff.

A viral video circulating on social media attributed to one of the passengers, identified as Jennifer Osteria, and another by one Manuel Vincent Sy, showed burst of flames from under the right wing of the plane.

“I could see, like, flashes of light. I thought it was … just from the sunlight and then I just started hearing, like ‘boom, boom, boom,’” passenger Walter Baumann told KABC-TV. “And then I look out of the window and these balls of fire are just shooting out of the engine.”

Andrew Ames was a passenger in a car speeding down a freeway near the airport when he got a video of the plane.

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‘Spewing fire bolts’

“The back was spewing fire bolts,” he said. “It looked like when you see a backfire from a motorcycle. Then I thought, ‘I don’t think a plane is supposed to do that.’”

“It went on for about 20 seconds of repeated fire and then it just stopped and I saw the plane start to veer hard to the left more than normal,” Ames said. “It looked like it was turning around.”

The tower reported that the plane was “at emergency with an engine out.”

In an audio recording of the exchange between PR113 and local air traffic control, the pilot was heard declaring a “mayday” and described the problem as an “engine surge on the right engine.” The recording was uploaded on the twitter account of journalist Tom Podolec.

An air traffic controller observed a “compressor stall” on the plane and told a Skywest aircraft on the ground to turn.

“I’m sure you saw, but the engine on that traffic ahead and to your left had some flames coming out of it, so we are getting you out of the way of it,” the controller said, according to LiveATC.net, an independent website that records and plays communications between pilots and towers at many airports.

Firefighters on hand

There were no flames showing from the plane when it landed but firefighters were on hand as a precaution, airport spokesperson Heath Montgomery said.

The fire team hosed down some of the heated plane wheels as a precaution.

Modern aircraft are designed to fly using just a single engine and pilots undergo training for precisely these types of scenarios twice a year, John Andrews, a former deputy director at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said on Friday.

“As long as the pilot doesn’t panic, they can handle that easily,” Andrews, also a former pilot for PAL and Cebu Pacific, told the Inquirer in Manila.

“There is a maximum takeoff and landing weight. They are never the same,” Andrews noted.

In certain emergency cases, pilots need to dump fuel to reduce the weight of the aircraft because landing beyond the maximum weight makes it riskier, he explained.

“They landed after 15 minutes so that’s not enough time to dump fuel. The investigators will be looking into this as well,” Andrews said.—WITH REPORTS FROM AP, JEROME ANING AND MIGUEL R. CAMUS

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TAGS: Air Transportation, Aviation, flaming engine, LAX, PAL
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