What Went Wrong When an American Airlines Plane Caught on Fire in Chicago
An investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that the dramatic 2016 fire of an American Airlines aircraft was caused by a rare engineering failure.
When American Airlines Flight 383 attempted to take off from Chicago O’Hare on Oct. 28, 2016, a failure of a metal-alloy disk in a General Electric engine sparked a fire and caused an emergency evacuation of the plane on the tarmac.
The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft went up in flames at the airport, as seen in awe-inspiring photographs and videos that were widely circulated. Investigators found pieces of the engine thrown as far as a half-mile away from the aircraft.
Pilots aborted take-off when passengers and crew members spotted flames outside the window. All 161 people on the aircraft made an emergency evacuation with 20 injuries, one of them serious.
GE said the flaw was in the nickel-metal alloy which had been used to make the disk — however the failure is extremely rare. The manufacturer said it had been nearly 30 years since the problem had been detected and this aircraft was the only plane still using a disk made from that bad batch of alloy.
The rare flaw could not have been detected in inspections required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The NTSB recommended that the FAA develop new inspection guidelines to check for internal disk cracks.
In addition to the faulty engine part, the NTSB investigation called out flight attendants, who they said were not knowledgeable on how to use the intercom system to talk to pilots during the evacuation. Crew evacuated passengers behind an engine that was still running. Additionally, several passengers attempted to bring their carry-on luggage during the emergency evacuation and refused to listen to crew members’ instructions. The investigation said that the evacuation was unnecessarily chaotic due to lack of communication.