Aircraft passengers angry over response to fire
CTV.ca News Staff
Some Alaska Airlines passengers are furious they weren't evacuated sooner after fireballs erupted under the starboard wing before takeoff from Calgary.
Passengers told CTV Calgary on Sunday that it took several minutes for an emergency evacuation, even though the aircraft's cabin was filling with smoke.
"The back of the plane started to fill up with smoke. I was scared," said Connie Watkins through her sniffles and tears.
Ironically, a flight attendant was in the middle of the routine reading out of safety instructions for Flight 698 for Los Angeles when the incident started.
"A big ball of flame and then smoke started all outside the plane and ultimately, it started to come inside the plane," said passenger Dennis Cornish.
"I just yelled 'Fire! Fire!' and the attendant stopped her instructions and wasn't really sure if it was a hoax or for real," added Janette Cornish.
"And then there was another big ball of fire," Dennis said.
"And the stewardess yelled to another stewardess that there was a fire. She came back and looked, and then they both looked and then they all left. And then we didn't see nobody," Watkins said.
"We were all standing up in the aisles and there wasn't nobody there at all."
At this point, passengers were screaming to be evacuated, but the escape exits remained closed.
"The stewardess again ran up to the front, and that took time. Then she came running back again and she was on the phone," Dennis said.
"Everybody was scared," Watkins said. "Everybody was jumping up trying to get off because they weren't opening the doors or anything."
The cabin continued to fill with smoke. Children were screaming and crying, and passengers were begging to get off the plane.
Finally, the crew made the call to evacuate.
"And at that time she said, 'Leave everything. We are going to evacuate by chute'," Janette recalled.
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson said the crew followed procedure.
"The elapsed time that they estimated for that to occur was about two minutes," said Caroline Boren.
"And at that time, because of the smoke in the cabin, they determined that as a precaution, they should go ahead and deploy the emergency evacuation slides."
All 138 passengers slid down the escape chutes to safety.
"It was horrible. I just thank God we were on the ground, that's all," Watkins said.
Alaska Airlines gave everyone a five-dollar gift certificate for a coffee shop and said it would help people with accommodation and rebooking their flights.
The company also said that a condition known as "torching" isn't unusual. That's when residual fuel reignites, shooting out towards the rear of the aircraft.
The cause of this accident hasn't been determined yet.