Late last month, passengers on a Chicago to Miami flight were sent hurtling down evacuation slides from an American Airlines Boeing 767 after the plane’s engine caught fire, engulfing the runway in billowing black smoke.
Now, 18 passengers — including three from South Florida — are suing the airline, Boeing and GE, the engine’s manufacturer, for the injuries caused by the allegedly “defective and unreasonably dangerous” aircraft, the suit says. The lawsuit was filed in Illinois circuit court, where the incident took place.
On the afternoon of Oct. 28, 170 crew and passengers on Flight 383 from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Miami International Airport were forced to evacuate when the engine on the right side of the plane burst into flames on the tarmac. Footage from the scene shows passengers quickly evacuating on slides on the front and rear left side of the plane and running into a grassy area while smoke and fire rise in the background. The plane’s right wing can be seen melting and drooping.
About 20 people suffered minor injuries, officials said.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs suffered “personal and bodily injuries, both physical and psychological in nature” and either have or will sustain “future medical bills, lost earnings, disability, disfigurement, and pain and suffering and emotional distress,” as a result of the accident.
The suit claims GE sold the defective engine to Boeing, which was negligent in “designing, manufacturing, assembling, and selling the accident aircraft as as not to cause injury to plaintiffs.” It also alleges that American Airlines failed to maintain, service, inspect and repair the aircraft appropriately enough to avoid the accident.
American Airlines declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The plaintiffs are represented by Chicago-based Wisner Law Firm, which focuses solely on representing people injured or killed in aviation accidents. The firm recently resolved a similar case for an undisclosed amount involving more than 100 passengers and crew on a September 2015 British Airways. Like the Chicago to Miami flight, the British Airways flight involved a faulty GE engine on a Boeing plane that failed and caught fire at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
“GE and Boeing and American, as well, need to take a harder look at this problem because I’m concerned it’s a recurring problem,” said Floyd Wisner, principal at the law firm. “It’s not just a rare occurrence.”
The law firm expects to add other passengers as plaintiffs, as well as other parties, such as material suppliers or component manufactures, as defendants if certain parts of the engine are found as contributing to the fire.
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FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Chicago PART 121 OPS ONLY - FSDO-31
N345AN AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT AAL383 BOEING 767 AIRCRAFT DURING TAKEOFF, EXPERIENCED A RIGHT ENGINE FAILURE AND STOPPED ON THE RUNWAY, ALL PERSONS ON BOARD EVACUATED VIA SLIDES, 10 PERSONS SUSTAINED UNKNOWN INJURIES, RIGHT SIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT WAS DAMAGED BY FIRE, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS.
Aircraft Make: BOEING
Aircraft Model: 767
Event Type: Accident
Flight Phase: TAKEOFF (TOF)
Aircraft Operator: AAL-American Airlines
Flight Number: AAL383
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Officials said 20 people sustained minor injuries when a plane caught fire at O'Hare International Airport Friday afternoon.
District Chief of EMS for O'Hare Juan Hernandez said 20 people had been transported to local hospitals with minor injuries including bruising, scrapes and ankle injuries sustained in the evacuation of the plane.
American Airlines flight 383 bound for Miami was forced to abort takeoff at about 2:35 p.m. The pilot heard a thump and thought a tire had blown. The air traffic control tower alerted the pilot to flames. A large fire quickly consumed the plane's right-side engine and wing. Flight crew immediately stopped the plane and evacuated it using the inflatable slides on the left hand side of the aircraft.
Federal officials said the cause of the fire was "uncontained" engine failure, meaning pieces were blown out of the engine.
All 170 passengers, including flight crew, and a dog were evacuated, Chicago Deputy Fire Commissioner Timothy Sampey said.
Sampey said the fire was mostly extinguished quickly, but crews are still working to put out hot spots on the plane. The plane was carrying 43,000 lbs. of fuel at the time.
"This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later, if it happened farther. There's about a thousand variables but again, they brought the aircraft to a halt, the air tower did a great job communicating to the pilot what fire they saw and they got everybody off the plane immediately," Sampey said.
Patients were taken to hospitals including Lutheran General Hospital and Presence Resurrection.
Passenger Hector Cardenas said the plane was seconds away from taking off when he heard an explosion. Large flames and a plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the aircraft.
"Within 10 or 15 seconds we would have been in the air," Cardenas said.
Sarah Ahmed was also on the flight and described the chaos in the moments after the fire broke out.
"We were almost up in the air. We were full throttle, full speed ahead and then we heard this huge bang and there's fire at the window, and so everyone on the right side of the plane got up, jumped up and they'er now on the left side of the plane. So there's a stampede at the left side. The plane comes to a screeching stop. People are yelling 'open the door, open the door!' everyone's screaming and jumping on top of each other to open the door. Within that time, I think it was seven seconds, there was now smoke in the plane and the fire is right up against the windows and it's melting the windows," Ahmed said.
Conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control revealed how quickly the situation unfolded.
"American 383 heavy stopping on the runway."
"Roger, roger. Fire."
"Do you see any smoke or fire?"
"Yeah fire off the right wing."
"Ok, send out the truck."
"American 383 can you give us any information right now?"
"Uh, standby. Chicago American 383, we're evacuating."
"American 383 roger, trucks are on the way."
In a statement, the airline said, "American Airlines is fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of flight 383. We are operating a special flight tonight to take our customers to Miami. Twenty passengers and one flight attendant reported non-critical injuries. Several were transported to Chicago-area hospitals to be evaluated. Members of American's specially trained employee volunteer CARE Team have been mobilized and dispatched to those hospitals, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport to provide assistance for our customers, crew members and their families."
The National Transportation Safety Board have taken over the investigation. The plane will remain on the runway until the NTSB is finished with their on-site investigation.
Sampey said in his estimation it's been about eight years since an incident equivalent to this occurred at O'Hare.
One runway remains closed at O'Hare. Operations at the airport are normal. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on their way to O'Hare Airport s of 4 p.m.
ABC7 Doppler 7 MAX picked up the smoke plume from the plane fire on radar.
Story and video: http://abc7chicago.com