Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Juneau International Airport (PAJN) explosion still under investigation: Wings employee who suffered minor injuries now back at work

Fire officials and Wings of Alaska are investigating the cause of a small explosion that took place at the Juneau International Airport Sunday that injured an airline employee.

The employee was re-filling a heated de-icing machine with ethylene glycol at about 6:05 a.m. Sunday when all of a sudden large flames shot out of the top of the machine, according to Capital City Fire and Rescue Captain Chad Cameron.

Wings of Alaska said the man’s beard was singed and he sustained “superficial sunburn” type burns but escaped serious injury. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution to ensure he didn’t inhale smoke and his eyes weren’t injured.

Wings of Alaska Regional Manager Scott Rinkenberger on Wednesday confirmed that the employee, whose name was not given, was released from the hospital shortly after the incident and was able to return to work the next day.

CCFR is still investigating the cause of the explosion. Cameron speculated that it may have been related to the vapors in the heated container. He said the “flash” of flames was instantaneous and self-extinguished by the time firefighters arrived on scene.

CCFR estimated that about two to three gallons of ethylene glycol exploded in the area. The spill was contained and cleaned up. The incident took place on the airport’s back ramp under the eaves of the building where equipment, such as towing vehicles and empty dog kennels, is kept for storage, according to Airport Manager Patricia deLaBruere.

deLaBruere said the machine that exploded is a mini-version of the bigger one used to de-ice aircraft on the tarmac. The bigger machine is towed around in the back of a truck, while the littler one is toted in a small cart, she said.

deLaBruere said she had never heard of a de-icing machine igniting before.

“There’s always a first time for everything,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

She equated the explosion in this case to a radiator cap shooting off when it is hot. The incident did not affect operations at the airport or cause any delays on Sunday, she said.

Similarly, Wings of Alaska said they are “at a loss” about why the explosion occurred. Rinkenberger said the de-icing agent is not flammable, except in specific conditions that did not exist in this case. He said the company’s safety personnel are investigating the matter alongside the fire department.

Rinkenberger said that Wings is readdressing their policy on how to refill the de-icing machine, in the meantime, to prevent such an explosion from happening again in the future. He said employees will now be required to de-energize the heating element of the de-icing cart and leave the cap open for a period of 10 minutes to allow for ventilation before it can be refilled.

Rinkenberger added that CCFR arrived on scene within minutes, but before they did, people already on scene rushed to help the man. Those who provided that initial assistance included Alaska Airlines ramp personnel and Alaska Seaplanes employees.