FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - An engine on a passenger jet bound for Caracas, Venezuela, burst into flames while the craft was taxiing for takeoff at a Florida airport Thursday, forcing frightened passengers to exit the plane using inflatable emergency slides.
Fifteen people were injured, one seriously, as 101 passengers and crew evacuated the Dynamic International Airways' Boeing 767-200ER minutes after the pilots realized there was a problem.
Television images showed the plane surrounded by white foam and firefighters' trucks in Fort Lauderdale, its left engine badly charred.
The 29-year-old aircraft was leaking fuel before departure, the Federal Aviation Administration said, and its crew was warned about the leak by a jet taxiing behind it.
Most of the injuries were bumps and bruises, Michael Jachles, a spokesman for the Broward County sheriff's office, told reporters. One child was among those being treated at Broward Health Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Rancher Luis Campana, 71, was traveling to Venezuela's Guarico state with his wife and sister.
"It was a real scare," Campana told Reuters at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He said he had been sitting near the front of the plane as the pilot put the thrust on to taxi up the runway.
"The engine exploded. As we were getting out of the plane down the chute, the smoke was beginning to enter and the engine was in flames," he said.
A catastrophe could have occurred had the jet taken off with a fuel leak, Greg Feith, a former crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, told Reuters.
"Once the aircraft is airborne, it becomes a flying blowtorch," Feith said. "The fire intensifies and you don't know what system or structure it's going to burn through."
Fire could damage a wing and fuselage, or cripple hydraulic and electronic control systems, Feith said, potentially making an emergency landing impossible. It could also ignite fuel tanks in the wings, especially if fuel vapor was present, he said.
The NTSB was sending four people to Fort Lauderdale to investigate the fire, the agency said. Feith said they would try to determine the source of the fire and why it caused so much damage, and could recommend modifications to the 767 fleet and general airline procedures to prevent a recurrence.
Greensboro, North Carolina-based Dynamic said it has operated wide-body aircraft since 2009 and would investigate the fire.