A day after a Delta Air Lines plane dumped jet fuel over several Los Angeles schools, federal authorities said the pilots of Delta Flight 89 did not ask for approval to release the fuel as part of their emergency landing.
Air crews will typically notify air traffic control of an emergency and indicate they need to dump fuel, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Air traffic controllers direct the plane to the appropriate fuel-dumping area.
“A review of yesterday’s air traffic control communications shows the Delta Flight 89 crew did not tell air traffic control that they needed to dump fuel,” the FAA said in a statement.
The FAA also said the fuel dumping procedure did not occur at the optimal altitude that would have allowed the fuel to atomize properly.
Fire crews treated 60 people after the fuel affected five elementary schools and one high school Tuesday, said inspector Sean Ferguson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Park Avenue Elementary fifth-grader Justin Guiti said the fuel sprayed all over him and got into his eye.
“Drops of water were coming down. I thought it was a rainbow, and I looked up and it was gasoline,” he said.
Miguel Cervantes, a sixth grader, said his skin itched afterward.
“I thought it was smoke, but when it went down, I felt it and it smelled like gas,” he said.
Did this have to happen?
The Boeing 777-200 had taken off from Los Angeles International Airport and was headed to Shanghai, China, when it experienced an engine issue and needed to quickly return to the airport, Delta said.
“The aircraft landed safely after a release of fuel, which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight,” the airline said.
There are maximum takeoff and landing weights for aircraft, so for a plane with full fuel tanks to land, it must dump the fuel to avoid potentially crashing upon landing, said CNN aviation safety analyst David Soucie.
According to the FAA, which is investigating Tuesday’s incident, there are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of major US airports.
“These 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,” according to the FAA.
While there are rules about where that fuel can be dumped, if the plane’s crew declares an emergency, it can be dumped at any point, Soucie said.
Flight 89 did declare an emergency and returned to the airport. Based on the location of the schools, Soucie said he estimates that the plane was probably at an altitude of about 4,000 to 5,000 feet.
Had the plane been at 10,000 feet, the fuel would never reach the ground because it would be atomized after leaving the wings, Soucie said.
Fuel has evaporated
Those doused by the jet fuel were decontaminated with soap and water and did not need to be hospitalized, said Sgt. Rudy Perez of the Los Angeles School Police Department.
The children changed from their clothes and wore gowns.
The affected schools are operating on their normal schedules Wednesday. All the jet fuel has evaporated, the fire department said.
“With the monitoring devices that we have, there are no explosive limits that are being detected at all, as well as solid or liquid products remaining,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Jason Robertson said.