Delta 777 Dumps Fuel Over School (Updated)

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A Delta Air Lines Boeing 777 dumped fuel that fell on a Los Angeles-area school as it returned to LAX after an “engine issue” today. The flight, headed for Shanghai, had an undisclosed engine issue after departure and had to dump fuel to achieve landing weight. Los Angeles County Fire dispatched more than 70 firefighters and paramedics to the Park School Elementary school to treat 17 children and nine adults. None required hospitalization.

In addition, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that all together some 60 individuals were treated, 20 of them children, at this school and other locations along the flight path of the Delta flight. None of the other affected individuals required hospitalization.

“Shortly after takeoff, Flight 89 from LAX to Shanghai experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return to LAX. The aircraft landed safely after an emergency fuel release to reduce landing weight,” a Delta spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.

The flight track for Delta Flight 89 shows it remained over land for much of its return trip to LAX. Image: FlightAware.com.

The Park school is the city of Cudahy, about 13 miles east of LAX and on the approach to the runways typically in use. Park sixth grader Josue Burgos told the LA Times, “We came out and we were playing, and the airplane was outside and we thought it was rain, but then we knew it was throwing gas on us, and everybody started to run. We went to the auditorium and we knew what happened. We went back to class. We stayed for one hour and then we went home.”

Late Tuesday night, Delta issued this statement: “Shortly after takeoff, Flight 89 from LAX to Shanghai experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return quickly to LAX. The aircraft landed safely after a release of fuel, which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight. Delta is in touch with Los Angeles World Airports and the LA County Fire Department as well as community leaders, and shares concerns regarding reports of minor injuries to adults and children at schools in the area.”

According to reports, the FAA will be investigating the incident. “The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind today’s incident involving a Delta Air Lines flight that was returning to Los Angeles International Airport. There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major US airport. 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,” the agency said in a statement.

A Boeing 777-200ER’s maximum landing weight can be some 186,000 pounds lower than its maximum takeoff weight. It’s not known how heavy Delta 89 was at takeoff and, therefore, how much fuel it would have to dump to reach a safe landing weight.

The flight landed safely at LAX. 

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16 COMMENTS

  1. From the flight path, it’s clear that the engine issue happened almost immediately after takeoff, they turned back right away and were undoubtedly not very high nor were they over the water by the time they got to dumping fuel. Assuming they lost an engine, seems like the pilots did what they should have done, with the unfortunate result of giving some folks a kerosene bath. I hope there are no serious injuries.

  2. Dumped fuel twice in my career, NEVER in a circling pattern or close to the ground. Sure, every aircraft has a “max” landing weight and that limit should definitely be observed for every day operations, no question. HOWEVER, every aircraft has to be able to land at its’ max take off weight as well. Flew two 4 engine machines in my career, the C-141 and the 747 Classic. Above normal max landing weight the -141 had a sink rate chart to comply with for touchdown. The Boeing had an overweight landing inspection that took about 35 minutes for one mechanic to complete. It contained 7 or 8 items to be visually inspected and de- /re-paneling took the time.
    No crew should ever think that routinely violating max landing weight (or any other limit) is a good or proper thing to do, fact. However, dumping fuel close to the ground isn’t very smart either, especially in a heavily populated area. The Triple 7 is certified to operate (for a while at least) on one engine. This particular flight flew quite a ways on one engine. My point is, either they were so worried about the remaining engine that they should never have left the VFR pattern and landed overweight or gotten ATC to route them to the fuel dump area, dumped as needed, then gone home to roost.
    By the way, the hand full of “overweight” landings I have made were extremely gentle on the aircraft. The heavy airframe just seems to be really stable.

  3. Not cool! The 777 can safely land overweight if it has the available runway length; or they could have dumped out over the water or above 6000’ and it would have been a non-issue. But if you declare an emergency, anything goes.

  4. “Airplane dumps kerosene on elementary school.”

    Does it really require much more explanation than that? The pilot had options (I’ve been flying for 34 years) and chose poorly. Whether legal or not, he/she made a very poor decision. ATC was told by the flight crew that they did not need to dump fuel, too, so that adds to the air of poor decision making.

  5. I don’t think whether the plane can land overweight or not has anything to do with this. The question is could they have waited until they were over water and/or higher to dump, and that depends on the single engine performance of a 777-200ER at whatever weight it was at given the altitude and temperature that day. Presumably it would have had to meet some single engine climb gradient to be permitted to takeoff, and given that the fuel is not immediately dumped in any case this would seem to be a case of a pilot being overzealous with the dump. That said, a low altitude engine failure is easier to talk about on the ground than in the air. I would hope they would have been calm enough and aware enough to know that dumping jet fuel at low altitude over LA has it’s own safety problems, they may have come up short here, or maybe there’s some facts we aren’t aware of yet.

  6. The airliner has sufficient single engine climb to handle the surrounding terrain. I fly here and know the area extremely well and the airliner already cleared all of the relevant terrain on their crosswind and downwind legs of their “pattern,” so clearly they could handle being out over the ocean for fuel dumping. They took off over the ocean, turned northbound over the Santa Monica Mountains, then eastward along the hills and across downtown. They dumped fuel in the worst possible position. There is really no excuse for the decision-making.

  7. It was kerosene; not cyanide. All’s well that ends well?

    Background: One of our Tomahawks suffered two independent magneto failures within less than one hour of flight time (left and right, on two consecutive flights). When the procedure says “land as soon as practicable,” DO IT.