herald

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Seconds from death

Four Irish survive as plane bursts into flames after crash landing

The smouldering wreckage of the Emirates plane at Dubai airport Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The smouldering wreckage of the Emirates plane at Dubai airport Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Four Irish people were among the 300 crew and passengers who survived a dramatic Dubai plane crash landing.

However, one member of the airport fire crew, who rushed to battle the blaze, tragically died as he helped to save the lives of all those on-board.

The incident happened at 9.45am Irish time yesterday when Emirates flight EK521 travelling from India crash landed at Dubai.

Smoke

It was travelling from the southern Indian state of Kerala to the United Arab Emirate city, which is a major transport hub operating with two runways.

Incredibly, all 282 passengers and 18 crew members who were aboard the Boeing 777 survived.

The Emirates airline has a significant number of Irish crew and has made recruitment drives for cabin staff here in the past.

Dramatic videos and pictures of the accident circulated online yesterday. Black smoke could be seen billowing from the aircraft, which appeared to have landed on its belly.

Some of the pictures showed how almost the entire roof of the plane was burnt off by the time emergency services got the blaze under control.

The Aviation Herald, a respected journal dealing specifically with aeronautical news, said the aeroplane suffered "a collapse in landing gear" and burst into flames.

Passengers described hearing a loud noise as the plane touched down after what until that point had seemed to be an ordinary flight.

"It was a big noise," said Shadi Kochuktty, a passenger from India. "We hadn't heard any announcement, but it was a big noise."

Terrifying

From that terrifying moment on, all those on board the Boeing 777 faced the nightmare all white-knuckle fliers fear: smoke filling the cabin, people screaming and the rush to escape.

"All the people were shouting, all the children, all the women," said Arun Krishna, an Indian national.

Flight attendants jumped out of their seats as the plane screeched to a stop, opening emergency doors on the craft and inflating the emergency slides.

Asked what the flight attendants said, Kochuktty offered just one word: "Escape!"

Another passenger, Sharon Maryam Sharji, described the terrifying experience.

"As we were landing there was smoke coming out in the cabin.

"People were screaming and we had a very hard landing. We left by going down the emergency slides, and as we were leaving on the runway we could see the whole plane catch fire," she added.

Krishna Bhagavathula, who was at the airport, wrote on Twitter that the flames had burned through the top of the aircraft before being brought under control.

Approach

There were conflicting reports about whether the plane was making an emergency landing or normal approach before the accident.

All arrivals and departures from Dubai International were suspended for over five hours, but resumed at 2.30pm Irish time, authorities said.

According to air traffic control recordings cited by the Aviation Herald, controllers at Dubai reminded the crew of the plane to lower the landing gear as it came in to approach.

Shortly afterwards, the crew announced they were aborting the landing to "go around", a routine procedure for which pilots are well trained.

But the aircraft came to rest near the end of the runway instead.

It was not immediately clear whether the landing gear was extended by the time the aircraft touched the ground, though a family of passengers who declined to be named said the wheels did not deploy and the jet landed on its belly.

A spokesperson for the Dubai media office, which represents the Emirate's government, said the plane was flying in from India when it "crash-landed".

The nationalities of the passengers and crew aboard were released by the airline on Facebook.

Along with the Irish, there were also 24 Britons while the majority, 226, were from India.

The airline said the captain and the first officer had over 7,000 hours of flying experience each.

Tribute

Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum paid tribute to the firefighter who lost his life fighting the blaze.

In a news conference last night, he also said 10 people were hospitalised after the incident. "Our thoughts are with everyone involved," he said.

Safety experts said it was too early to pinpoint a cause for the crash, but Sheikh Ahmed ruled out any security breach.

Boeing said it would work with Emirates to gather more information and was deploying a technical team to advise.

Investigators will scour the wreckage and interview pilots, controllers and witnesses for clues to any technical malfunctions, human error or weather-related problems.

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