Plane Caught Fire After Emergency Landing, Everyone Safe

This morning’s Singapore Airlines flight SQ368 from Singapore to Milan turned around two and a half hours into the flight due to a fuel leak. The plane’s wing caught fire upon landing back in Singapore.

“The pilot said he was going to turn back because the engine is leaking oil on the right side. The captain said that they cannot turn on that side of the engine or else the plane will be vibrating. And they can’t fly like this to Milan…That’s why they turned back,” she said.

…After the plane landed in Singapore at about 7am, the passengers cheered and clapped. Then, there was a spark and there were “huge flames” from the right side of the plane, she said.

Here’s video of the fire from inside the plane:

Passengers were told to stay seated while fire fighters arrived to put out the fire. The plane was sprayed with water and foam. The fire was extinguished and passengers deplaned via air stairs. No one was hurt.

Here’s video of the fire being extinguished from a distance:

When I first saw this incident it struck me as one of the scariest things imaginable. While by no means an expert in aircraft fires, my fear was that the fire could have spread more quickly, and engulfed the passenger cabin. I’d have wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Yet it was deemed more dangerous to evacuate the aircraft on the other side while the fire was in progress, so they extinguished it first.

I’ll be fascinated to learn more about the decision here — who made it and what factors were being considered. Ultimately it turned out to be the correct one since no one was hurt.

(HT: Johnny D.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. God’s honest truth – If I’m sitting on that plane, I punch out the left side door or overwing exit – no questions asked. Deal with the fine or jail time later. Notwithstanding the outcome – maintaining passengers on board with a full on fire in a jet laden wing seems wrongheaded.

  2. It’s an oxygen and fire extinguishing agent issue. Most people die from the smoke and burns to lungs. By keeping the passengers in the cabin (assuming fire trucks are on the scene) is a smart move. They spray the foam, removing the oxygen and fire. If you open the cabin it unseals it and could cause a draft type fire to flare up. Kind of like opening a window in a burning building. It gives fuel to the fire and exposes the passengers. The pressure in the cabin is sealed off from the outside. Hard to really say without being there at the time. Ever notice that the safety instructions on the emergency doors tell you to look out the window for fire before opening the door.

  3. Are we certain it was deemed more dangerous to evacuate? Or is it a case of the flight deck issuing a directive prior to realizing the #2 engine is on fire, followed by rigid compliance by the cabin crew of said order and/or a delay in follow up communication?

    Flight attendants are trained to initiate an evacuation at their discretion (i.e., no ‘easy-victor’ from the cockpit) upon observing a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition. It is fair to say that without the benefit of hindsight, this situation might qualify. Time will tell, but in this case perhaps it would not have been unreasonable for flight attendants to initiate an evacuation of the cabin using the doors on the port side.

  4. From the photos it’s clear Singapore Airport a Emergency Services are well trained and well equipped. The stairs used to evacuate the aircraft are special purpose built evacuation stairs owned and operated by the emergency services. They have a hydraulic lift that allows them to be quickly positioned at aircraft of different sizes. The stairs are also extra wide to move more people quickly than normal stairs. Some of the fire photos also show fire possibly moving under the aircraft towards the left side making early evacuation by slide questionable. Waiting for emergency services to knock down the fire blocking the escape path and using the special evac stairs looks like it did what they train for, a safe evacuation with zero injuries. Kudos to all the professionals involved, on the aircraft and on the ground.

  5. In the 2nd video posted you can see the responding emergency vehicles. The last vehicle moving much faster than those in the beginning, is the evac stair truck. It is clearly not a standard air stair truck and most clear is that the stair truck is part of the planned emergency response. Hard to see in the video but when the stairs arrive they wait for the fire to be cleared from the evac path. The video ends before the stairs move into position.

  6. There wasn’t anywhere to land more quickly than turning around?
    I guess my parachute would have been rather useless 20 feet from ground level.
    (It’s my Emotional Support Parachute if TSA asks)

  7. Why did they drive around the plane and away out of the picture first like Keystone Cops instead of immediately engaging the fire? Also the truck on the aft side doesn’t seem to notice until the end that his foam is not getting anywhere near the wing but is landing on the runway aft of wing, so he pulls up closer once the fire is almost out. Maybe it was too hot.

  8. You don’t delay an evacuation to avoid injuring passengers in the course of the evacuation. If the fuselage was breached, or the fuel tank was compromised, a much larger fire could have ensued and the results could have been disastrous.

    The only explanation that I would find reasonable, at this point, is that there was a breakdown of communication between cabin crew and the flight deck, insofar as the pilots did not grasp the intensity of the fire and initiate an evacuation, and that the flight attendants hesitated to initiate an evacuation without an order from the cockpit. If that is the case, we are dealing with a CRM issue which can be corrected through remedial training… history in the airline industry shows us this is possible.

    Now, this is purely speculative on my part, and as I sit here now there is no evidence of this actually being the case, *BUT* if the passengers were kept onboard purposefully to “wait out” suppression of the fire, suggesting the crew had knowledge of all the circumstances, and the decision was deliberate, is (IMO) outrageous. It’s much more difficult to correct conscious exercises of poor judgment.

    The logic, “well, it was the right decision because nobody got hurt” is outcome-dependent and fatally flawed. That’s akin to saying, “we made the right decision to stay outside during the thunderstorm because nobody got struck by lightning.”

    If on the ground and the airplane is on fire, you evacuate. Full stop. The abrasions, twisted ankles and broken wrists ultimately are worth the risk of a catastrophe if the fire penetrated the fuselage.

    Finally, the videos from the cabin suggest that even though the evac stairs were deployed, passengers did not go anywhere for some time following the extinguishing of the fire. I don’t think there was any attempt made at a rapid evacuation, which is curious to me without knowing any other facts.

    Close call. Glad it worked out for all involved… that doesn’t always happen with fires, especially on airplanes.

  9. Was there a fuel dump prior to landing; if so it was the right decision to put the fire out prior to evacuation. It will be interesting to find out the cause of the fire

  10. Even if fuel was dumped, the aircraft would land with thousands of pounds of Jet-A in the wing tanks, most likely a great deal more fuel than during a normal landing as the entire purpose of dumping is to get the airplane down around max landing weight. Airplanes do not land as heavy, with that much fuel, in normal service.

    Here’s the litmus test:

    You’re on a plane that’s just safely landed, after an air return due to engine trouble over the Indian Ocean. The right wing and #2 engine are suddenly involved in what appears to be a violent fire. Monty Hall appears, and gives you the opportunity to leave now, on the slide behind the proverbial Door Number 3L, or you can stay put to see how things turn out.

    As a passenger in the cabin, privy to no other information other than the orange glow and black smoke emanating from the right side of the airplane, which do you choose?

  11. You choose to listen to the flight crew’s instructions if they are not incapacitated. If fire apparatus is on site and there is no smoke in the cabin, you are safer inside. Smoke/fire in the cabin, you better get out.

    All you monday-morning quarterbacks are ignoring the huge risks of sliding down into a pool of burning fuel, melted slides, or getting run over by a firetruck. No one was injured or died in this incident, and that easily could have happened with an evacuation.

  12. The threat of being run over by a firetruck should never, ever enter the calculus of whether or not to commence an emergency evacuation. Notwithstanding the tragic OZ214 incident, that’s just not an important consideration.

    Plus, once smoke/fire has breached the cabin, especially in a fuel-fed fire of that intensity, you’re talking seconds to evacuate the aircraft with at least 3-5 exit doors unavailable.

    You just don’t screw around with fire. Hoping that the ARFF is going to respond quickly, do everything right and not encounter any complications in fighting the fire is not a strategy. It’s wonderful that everyone walked off safely, and I am impressed with the SIN ARFF response.

    In the meantime, I am going to hold short of heaping praise on the crew. I think the position that they were correct in deciding to stay on board is just as valid as questioning why an evacuation was not initiated.

  13. Listening to audio on NBC Nightly News tonight of the flight crew syncronized with the fire – with the Captain or FO saying they were waiting for instructions from ground services – I will go further – this is a MAJOR fail by Singapore Airlines. To the point that I think they have a problem in terms of who is ultimately in charge of the aircraft and passengers.

    I WILL AVOID Singapore Airlines until they recognize there is a problem which needs to be addressed.

  14. I think the “stay on board” decision rests with the pilots.

    If I recall correctly, the same decision was made when the Qantas A380 landed at Changi when it had the engine fault and caught fire. It was safer to keep people on board than getting onto the runway where fuel or explosion would have worsened things.

  15. Absolutely incredible that no injuries were sustained in this incident. Hats off to the passengers for remaining calm, cabin crew for keeping passengers calm, pilots for landing the plane, and above all, the firefighters for putting out the blaze. On a different note, I do find it surprising that there was no emergency evacuation. It’s also quite disturbing how this is the 3rd Boeing 777 engine fire in less than a year. There was the British Airways 777-200ER fire at Las Vegas McCarran in September 2015, the Korean Air 777-300 fire at Tokyo Haneda just last month, and now this. Coincidence? I hope so.

    I also happen to have written a similar event recap on my personal blog:
    Feel free to check it out 🙂

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