7 Thoughts on Yesterday’s American Airlines 767 Catching Fire as it Prepared for Takeoff from Chicago

American Airlines flight AA383 from Chicago to Miami caught fire yesterday as it was preparing for takeoff.

The Boeing 767-300 had 161 passengers and 9 crew onboard at around 2:50pm Central time and was heading down runway 28R. The crew rejected takeoff, and stopped on the runway, reporting a fire coming from the right wing. Here’s detail on the incident from The Aviation Herald

The crew evacuated the aircraft. A handful of injuries were reported. The aircraft’s fuselage actually melted from fire near the wing.

Apparently the FAA reports that plane blew a tire. Presumably pieces of tire affected the engine. We’ll eventually learn whether the tire itself had an issue, or perhaps if there was debris on the runway. (Update: The FAA has backed off the explanation that this began with a blown tire, and American reports engine failure.)

A passenger videotaped their evacuation.

  1. Air traffic control does a phenomenal job, understanding the situation, dispatching emergency vehicles, and remaining calm. They stop traffic efficiently and get things running again smoothly too. I flew out of Chicago O’Hare yesterday afternoon and my 4:50pm departure wasn’t even delayed (indeed, the inbound aircraft wasn’t delayed either). Find audio here.

  2. It appears, and I’ve heard some discussion about, the left rear slide being blown around by exhaust prior to straightening out. If the slide had become detached or damaged that could have caused real problems for evacuation. Thankfully it didn’t.

  3. Whenever there’s an incident, passengers leave with carry on bags even though they aren’t supposed to. You don’t want to slow down evacuation. People could die.

  4. It’s really impressive how few people took things on their way out of this plane. You can see from passenger video how relatively few overhead bins were open. But you aren’t going to stop it entirely. It’s easy to mock and shame passengers, but I don’t feel like anyone who hasn’t been through an emergency like this really has standing to call anyone out individually. It’s hard to know how you’ll react in such a situation.

  5. Evacuations are always done by people and as democratic an experience as flying is these days (including up front) you’re going to have a huge variance in behavior.

  6. John Walton thinks overhead bins should be locked in these sorts of situations. I’m not sure that would help, and might make things worse as invariably some passengers won’t understand this and will remain in the aisles trying to get the bins open.

  7. Passengers take their belongings expecting that if they don’t, they may not get them back or at least won’t for a long time. Obviously personal items could be destroyed in a fire. In some cases all items will be needed for investigation (if the cause or source of an incident is unclear) but assuming that the items remain intact and aren’t absolutely necessary for investigators there should be a credible commitment to reunite passengers with belongings right away. In other words, take away the felt need of passengers to delay evacuation by grabbing personal items.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. We also always leave our shoes on until after takeoff and put them back on well before landing.

    News reports mention that passengers were landing on top of each other at the bottom of the slides. I’m not as charitable in regard to passengers who open the overhead bins and risk the safety – the lives – of others to carry off their precious backpacks, briefcases, or rollaboards.

    A little shaming of these “flee-baggers” is in order in my humble opinion. Yes, I can be “judgmental” when I recognize selfish behavior.

  2. @Everyone: I can;t believe how some of the pax were dilly dallying in the aisle, and fiddling with their personal items. Not only that, they were pax on the RIGHT SIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT where the fire was emerging, and they could see it happening. Didn’t they take this seriously?

  3. That is why I always carry a small backpack with me all the time. It does not go on any overhead bin and in case of emergency evacuation it will be either on my chest or on my back in less than 2 seconds. Opening an overhead bin to grab a carry on is beyond stupid but having a small purse or small backpack with cell phone, wallet, passport, etc… with you won’t be a problem at all. I guess this opens a new discussion. Airlines should be the ones to be blamed for people reaching to carry ons. Since they decided to charge for checked bags people are becoming way too much innovative and managing to bring monstrosities inside the planes to avoid paying stupid fees. I am always amazed on things people bring on board and load overhead bins. Most of carry ons don’t even fit and they delay boarding and deplaning since they take forever to be placed and claimed from overhead bins. No US airline enforces the rule that carry on luggage has to fit in those metal frames they have at the gate. That is never used. If checking bags was free, efficient and you knew your bag would not be destroyed by the people that handle it I am pretty sure people would be happy to check them reducing the drama of fighting for overhead bin space.

  4. The American Airlines statement that this was an engine problem. A little disingenuous? The fire might have started in the engine, but from all the videos, it is very obvious that the whole wing was involved. That plane is beyond repair, again American is understating the situation.

    Here is where a thought leader should make a statement. People should make sure that they carry their ID on their persons during the whole flight. There many small wallets made just for this purpose. That way no one has to be searching the overhead compartments for anything. These videos should be lessons for everyone as to what one needs to ‘carry on’ their persons.

  5. 1. Must have been a terrifying minute at the very back of the plane while that slide wasn’t holding in place and the flames were shooting.

    2. I do wonder whether some people reaching for bags were simply unaware / in shock – operating on instinct, or simply not knowing the severity of the flames in the back.

    3. The guy filming – good grief- what a self promoter. Who has time to turn around to capture the faces of those begging behind. Shame on him. I’d have a little more leniency if he was just holding the phone by his side, capturing randomly along with the audio. This guy went for deliberate shots in the cabin while people were panicking behind him. Disgusting.

  6. I thought I heard this morning that the tire thing is a red herring. This was an uncontrolled engine failure: which is a very rare but very dangerous problem. Basically, the engine explodes and parts shoot everywhere.. These things seem to happen a handful of times a year. It’s good they didn’t get in the air, and that nobody was seriously hurt.

  7. If you are a Republican you already recognize selfish behavior. It’s everyone for themselves. No help provided. Don’t care if you are weak or disadvantaged. You already know this.

    So if something happens to you because I want to save my precious carry on, tough luck “personal responsibility” guy. No one owes you anything.

  8. Ha ha Credit, nice try. Selfish is demanding other people give you free stuff that you did not earn and have no right to. Socialism breeds selfishness, not the other way around.

  9. The problem of charging for luggage and people bringing what should be checked is one aspect, but I use a vest with multiple pockets that stays on my body until after take off. This means all my essentials (cc, phone, passport, etc.) will exit with me in an emergency without another thought or any delay.
    As for stopping to get stuff out of overhead – things can be replaced, lives cannot.

  10. Kudos to the crew for stopping the plane mid-takeoff roll and getting people off in an orderly way (using only half the exits, just like the FAA tests for).
    The people on the ground running between the overwing slide and the rear slide deserve a metal for the huge personal risk they took to keep those slides working (were they crew or passengers?).
    It would be interesting to see an investigation of whether there is any commonality between the “uncontained engine failures” (explosions) that seem to be happening even though engines are designed explicitly to contain all failures. I’m aware of Qantas A380, Southwest 737, and now AA 767 — all within the past 6 years.

  11. The remarkable thing to me was how at the front of the plane it seemed fairly calm as you really couldn’t see how bad it was becoming. On the evac video the folks coming from the back are in panic while those in the front that hadn’t seen the flames yet are taking more time to evac it seems. Good video to watch and use as a learning tool I think.

  12. With fuel in the wings and an engine failure/explosion, miracle more damage wasn’t done and deaths/injuries didn’t occur. Cudos to the crew. (Noticed this was a reburb’d cabin from the photo of the vodka glass on the side table.) I’ve flown this route several times and half of them experienced mechanical delays of some sort. These older 767s have been a pain for AA.

  13. There’s no way I would get off the plane without my work laptop. There are things on there that can NOT be replaced.

    If I’m on the exit row, I’ll toss everyone else off then grab my bag. If not, I’ll grab my bag then get in the exit line. But hell yes my bag is coming with me.

  14. @Greg D, have you heard of a back up drive and/or cloud storage? Your laptop should never be irreplaceable.

  15. Here’s my thought leader thought: If you had an expensive Tumi in the overhead, you don’t want it to burn up, because it only has a one year warranty. However, if you had a Briggs & Riley, you’d have lifetime coverage from even airline damage/
    Clearly the solution is to outlaw Tumi bags.

  16. Quite likely a result of outsourced
    maintenance. AA has long told their maintenance employees that they can easily be replaced with workers in other parts of the world that work for far less money then is possible in the USA.

  17. No matter what rational you use – a carry on no matter what size or importance is not worth dying for! My small backpack and laptop guys either deserve a punch in the face after we are all safely off the plane or just stop flying altogether you selfish pricks!

  18. @Credit

    In your beloved liberal land, conservatives are the greedy ones for wanting to keep their own money while liberals are generous for wanting to take other people’s money and spend it. Weird how that works, isn’t it? Douche bag.

  19. In my opinion, the best way to stop passengers from retrieving luggage during evacuations is for airlines to do the following:
    1. State the following in safety demonstrations: “In case of evacuation, you must leave all bags behind. Any passenger who fails to comply with this instruction will be permanently barred from flying with us.”
    2. Restate it if an emergency landing occurs and evacuation is possible or imminent.
    3. Actually enforce this. Try to retrieve bags during evacuation = banned for life.
    People should not be allowed to get away with unsafe behavior.

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