Dubai: Fire ripped through an Emirates flight from India at Dubai International on Wednesday, forcing 300 people to flee the Boeing 777 and brought one of the world’s busiest airport’s to a standstill.
The 282 passengers and 18 crew escaped the aircraft before flames gutted the jet. There were 13 injuries and a firefighter from Ras Al Khaimah died tackling the blaze. It is the worst incident in Emirates’ 31-year history.
An investigation involving the UAE’s federal aviation authority, Emirates and authorities in Dubai is underway to determine what happened on flight EK521 from Thiruvananthapuram in southern India. The federal aviation authority said the aircraft was making an emergency landing. Emirates is describing it is an “incident” and an “accident.”
The airline’s chairman and chief executive Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum said late on Wednesday the Australian and Emirati pilots might have tried to abort the landing but was unable to comment on the conversations between the cockpit and air traffic control. He ruled out a “security gap” in India.
The 13-year-old Boeing 777-300 came into land at a speed of 155 knots (287 kilometres) and at an altitude of 1,475 feet before increasing in speed whilst continuing its descent, according to flight tracking website flightradar24. The aircraft reached a speed of 180 knots at a height of 575 feet, the website shows, before its speed rapidly declines, which appears to be when the incident occurred.
A passenger on board the flight told Gulf News that there was no indication anything was wrong as they were coming into land and that there was no warning from the pilots. There was “shaking and then a big bump” and “we dropped suddenly,” Indian national G. Jagadeesh told Gulf News on Wednesday. Other media have reported that the pilots told passengers that there was an issue with the aircraft’s landing gear and that they would be making an emergency landing.
Mark Martin, an aviation analyst and founder of Dubai-based Martin Consultancy, said in a note on Wednesday that the “aggressive impact on the runway … appears to be as a result of a late initiation of the “Go-Around” Procedure,” which is the aborted landing attempt. He said the “hard impact [on] the ground may likely have been as a result of an unstable approach.”
Dubai International, the Middle East’s busiest airport, closed for several hours following Wednesday’s incident, sending incoming flights to neighbouring airports, and delaying and cancelling at least 150 flights. The airport opened one of its two runways at 6:30 pm on Wednesday to resume operations and was continuing to operate at limited capacity as of 11:30 am on Thursday.
Flydubai has cancelled 30 flights to and from Dubai and dozens of flights operating in and out of Dubai International’s Terminal 1 are delayed or cancelled. Operator Dubai Airports advised on Thursday for passengers to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.
With inputs from Fasial Masudi, Staff Reporter and Michael Coetzee, Web News Editor