LAS VEGAS (AP) — The 157 passengers aboard British Airways Flight 2276 were settled into their seats for the 10-hour flight from Las Vegas to London when a loud boom rocked the aircraft.
Smoke and ash started pouring out of the plane’s left side engine, which had caught fire. Those aboard safely fled down emergency slides and across the tarmac as flames leaped from the British Airways Boeing 777-200 and dark black smoke billowed.
Despite the dramatic scene, the plane was evacuated within minutes; some passengers even left with their luggage. Most of the 14 minor injuries reported were from the evacuation slide and British Airways said Wednesday that those who were taken to a hospital were treated and released.
Reggie Bugmuncher, of Philadelphia, was charging her phone and waiting at a gate Tuesday for her flight from McCarran International Airport when she heard people saying, “Oh, my God.” She looked out and saw “bursts of flames coming out of the middle of the plane.”
“Everyone ran to the windows and people were standing on their chairs, looking out, holding their breath with their hands over their mouths,” Bugmuncher said.
The plane’s emergency slides deployed and passengers quickly fled. She said it was a “bit more orderly” than she would have expected given the dramatic nature of the fire and smoke.
Karen Bravo was a passenger on the plane. She told Las Vegas TV station KTNV that a loud, sudden noise shook the aircraft.
“I thought it was a tire blowing out, then you heard another one. Then the plane just stopped,” she said.
“All you could see was smoke and then all you could see was ash,” said passenger Torill Korven. “And then you looked out the other window and all you could see was fire.”
Firefighters stationed at the airport reached the plane two minutes after getting reports of flames, and within another three minutes, everyone inside the plane had escaped.
After firefighters extinguished the flames, emergency vehicles could be seen surrounding the aircraft, which was left a sooty gray from the smoke and fire retardant.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the plane’s left engine caught fire and an investigation was under way. The National Transportation Safety Board was collecting information about the incident, said Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the agency in Washington.
Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen said the cause of the fire wasn’t clear yet, but the fire didn’t appear to breach the cabin.
Fire officials said 14 people were taken to Sunrise Hospital by early Tuesday evening for minor injuries, most a result of sliding down the inflatable chutes to escape.
Airport spokesman Chris Jones said passengers were taken by the airline to hotels but he had no additional information on their travel plans.
The airline said the aircraft “experienced a technical issue” as it prepared to take off. “Our crew evacuated the aircraft safely and the fire was quickly extinguished.”
British Airways said it is providing passengers with hotels and whatever else they may need, and added that the safety of its customers and crew is a top priority.
The Federal Aviation Administration delayed flights to Las Vegas from some airports for more than two hours after the fire to slow the flow of planes while the disabled Boeing 777 made two of the airport’s four runways inaccessible. One of the runways reopened about 2 1/2 hours after the fire.
Las Vegas’ airport is the ninth-busiest in the U.S. and had nearly 43 million passengers last year. The airport has been taking steps to accommodate more international travelers seeking direct flights to Europe and Asia, including adding new gates to accommodate wide-body double-decker jets.
Associated Press writer Anna Johnson in Phoenix contributed to this report.