An airliner with engine trouble on Tuesday dumped jet fuel that fell as a smelly mist on dozens of schoolchildren as it made an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport, officials said.
The fuel, described by fire officials as a vapor, caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults, but nobody was taken to hospital, and the only decontamination required was soap and water, officials said.
Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai reported an engine problem only minutes after takeoff.
“Delta 89, heavy, we have engine compressor stalls on the right engine,” the pilot reported to air traffic control, according to a recording of the radio conversation.
The pilot was asked whether he wanted to keep the aircraft over the ocean to dump fuel, but declined, although it appears he might have changed his mind later about whether the plane could safely land weighing as much as it did.
The fuel sprayed out of the plane in two lines and descended at midday in the city of Cudahy and nearby parts of Los Angeles County, about 21km east of the airport.
The mist fell on five elementary schools, but all injuries were minor and there were not any evacuations, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sky Cornell said.
All the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground, he said.
Diego Martinez, a sixth-grader at Park Avenue Elementary in Cuday, said he and his classmates were outside for physical education class when they saw the airplane flying low overhead.
“It was very close,” he said.
Shortly afterward, the air filled with the pungent odor of fuel.
Diego was not doused, but some of his friends complained that their skin was itching.
Some teachers at Park Avenue had headaches from the smell, said Antonio Buenabad, area representative for the United Teachers Los Angeles union.
“They were anxious to get home and shower because the stench was very strong,” he said.
Delta Air Lines said the aircraft landed safely after releasing fuel, “which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight.”
The FlightAware Web site’s flight track showed the jet took off over the ocean, then made an immediate right turn toward land and circled back over Southern California to approach the airport from the east.
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