ATW Editor's Blog

Emirates 777 fire: The great escape


Shocking as it was today to see images of the Emirates Boeing 777 engulfed in flames after crash-landing at Dubai Airport, the real story is not the crash but the escape.

Looking at those images, it’s hard to believe that all 300 people onboard escaped not just with their lives, but without injury. Sadly, later reports confirmed a firefighter was killed, so this is a tragic accident. But the scale of the tragedy could have been so much larger.

There have been other incidents in recent years where the aircraft was severely damaged or destroyed, yet all or nearly all of those onboard evacuated safely. Most notable are the Asiana Airlines 777 that crashed at San Francisco International in July 2013 and the British Airways 777 that suffered an engine fire during its takeoff roll at Las Vegas McCarren in September 2015. In the Asiana case, there were 307 people onboard; three were killed and 49 injured. In the BA case, all 170 onboard evacuated safely, although some suffered minor abrasions.

Just like the Emirates incident, the miracle with those two aircraft is that so many escaped.

That’s no coincidence. Modern airliners and aero engines are designed and built (and regulated) to incredibly exacting standards to ensure, first and foremost, that accidents are extremely rare. But they are also designed so that if the worst happens, the accident is survivable. Most important of all is to design aircraft so they can be evacuated rapidly. Put simply, get everyone out of harm’s way in seconds, not minutes.

The other, equally important part of the safety equation is the flight crew and their training. Flight Safety Foundation President and CEO Jon Beatty issued this statement today, “today's accident involving Emirates Flight 521 underscores the importance of emergency preparedness in flight crew and passenger evacuation, and in aircraft rescue and fire fighting.”

Beatty is correct. Professionalism, training and an almost military-like approach to ensuring flight crews know exactly what to do in an emergency shaves precious seconds from the evacuation process. Those seconds are critical. They make the difference between a full-scale disaster and a frightening, awful experience for all those onboard – but one they live to tell their friends and family about.

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