A Chinese plane burst into flames during an aborted take-off this morning (12 May), in the southwestern city of Chongqing.
It’s every flier’s worst nightmare, but fortunately there were only minor injuries among the 113 passengers and nine crew members, Tibet Airlines said in a statement.
The pilots for flight TV9833 - which was due to depart shortly after 8am local time (around 2am CET) on Thursday - interrupted the takeoff after experiencing an abnormality, according to the Chinese aviation regulator. It says this led to an engine ‘scrape’ and fire after the plane veered off the runway.
Mobile phone footage has captured the horrifying moment that the Tibet Airlines plane became engulfed in flames, as passengers ran away on the tarmac - some having been forced to jump from the aircraft.
Emergency plans were activated and investigators rushed to the scene, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said. In total, 36 people suffered bruises and sprains during the evacuation and were sent to local hospitals for examination.
The incident comes less than two months after a China Eastern Airlines plane carrying 132 people crashed in the mountains of southern China, killing everyone on board.
Passengers experienced a ‘sudden vibration’ on the Tibet Airlines plane
A passenger identified as Mr A in Chinese media said there was a sudden vibration and oxygen masks lowered before the plane made an unusual sound and veered off the runway.
Crew members noticed that fuel oil was leaking and started evacuating passengers down slides, Mr A said. Fire soon broke out, forcing some passengers including himself to jump from the aircraft, he said, adding that he had injured his back and legs.
Unverified video on social media showed a Tibet Airlines plane, a subsidiary of Air China, with heavy smoke and flames pouring from the left side of the aircraft as passengers and crew ran away.
Other unverified photos shared on social media show both engines separated from the airframe as well as a major crack in the rear fuselage and damage to the right wing.
What caused Tibet Airlines flight TV9833 to catch fire?
It’s not yet clear exactly what caused the malfunction and subsequent blaze at Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport this morning.
The plane involved is a nine-year-old A319, one of the smallest versions of the A320 family. It is powered by CFM56 engines from CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and Safran, according to Airfleets.net.
Airbus said it was aware of media reports about the incident and was making all efforts to assess the situation.
CAAC had already embarked on sector-wide inspections to find potential safety lapses, following the deadly China Eastern Airlines crash on 21 March. So far there have been few clues about the cause of the Boeing 737-800 accident, despite the recovery of the plane’s second ‘black box’ last month.
It could take up to a year to piece together what happened from the flight data recorder, the investigator said.
The tragedy shocked a country which had vastly improved its safety record to become one of the best in the world. Prior to the COVID pandemic, China was one of the world's fastest growing markets for aviation, measured by passenger traffic, during the past decade.