Vegas plane fire passengers escaped with lives and bags

Casinos along the Las Vegas Strip can be seen behind a plane that caught fire at McCarren International Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas. An engine on the British Airways plane caught fire before takeoff. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Casinos along the Las Vegas Strip can be seen behind a plane that caught fire at McCarren International Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas. An engine on the British Airways plane caught fire before takeoff. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Passengers on the British Airways jet whose engine caught fire just before takeoff in Las Vegas escaped with their lives – and some with their carry-ons, as well.

While flight crews tell people to leave belongings behind in an evacuation, pilots say they seem increasingly inclined to grab whatever they brought on board. And sometimes even a selfie or two.

“We’re always shaking our head,” said Chris Manno, a veteran pilot with a major US airline who took to social media Wednesday to slam those pictured on the Vegas tarmac with bulky cabin bags. “It doesn’t matter what you say, people are going to do what they do.”

The engine on the London-bound Boeing 777-200 caught fire Tuesday as the plane was gathering speed. Though the evacuation was swift, officials said Wednesday that 27 of the 170 passengers or crew on board required hospital treatment for cuts, bruises or other minor injuries, mostly from the evacuation slides.

“A deadly slalom” is how pilot Patrick Smith described baggage on an emergency slide in a blog post. Bags also could tear the inflatable slides, block exits on board and cause other injuries in the chaos of an evacuation.

The chief of the Association of Flight Attendants union, which does not represent the British Airways crew, said she expects federal investigators will find that baggage slowed down the evacuation and caused some of the injuries.

Manno noted that passengers also evacuated with belongings when a Delta Air Lines jet nearly skidded off the runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport in March and an Asiana Airlines jet caught fire after a hard landing in San Francisco in 2013.

“We’re seeing this more and more,” said John Goglia, an aviation safety expert and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Goglia believes that because air safety advances have made accidents far more survivable and injuries often less severe, more people can – and do – bring bags as they evacuate.

Passenger Karen Bravo, 60, of Las Vegas, said she happened to have her purse and some other passengers further back in coach had time to grab their carry-on luggage while waiting to evacuate.

“It would be like if your whole house was on fire and you had to go out the door,” she said.

Guidance posted online by the Federal Aviation Administration advises passengers to leave bags on board during an evacuation – but does not mandate it. Airline crews may make that announcement during preflight safety demonstrations, and during an emergency, would typically tell people to leave bags behind. Passengers are required by law to follow all crew instructions, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

“Flight attendants are the first line of defense in emergencies,” he said, declining to address whether the agency believed emergency-evacuations-with-bags were an increasing problem that merited any regulatory action or public education campaign.

Airlines vary in whether their preflight briefings tell passengers to abandon belongings in an evacuation, according to Stephen Schembs, the flight attendant union’s government affairs director.

With the advent of checked bag fees, many passengers opt to bring important items on board rather than check them. The union said for years it has advocated fewer passenger items in the cabin and for full-scale evacuation demonstrations when an aircraft is redesigned, especially if passenger capacity is increased. The latter is to ensure that the plane can still evacuate safely within 90 seconds, as required by the FAA.

Within five short minutes, the passengers on the British Airways flight were evacuated and the flames were out.

Contributing to this report were Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City and Joan Lowy in Washington.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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