Evacuation of EK521 Slowed by Passengers Grabbing for Bags
Video purporting to be from the moments after Emirates Flight EK521 crash landed at Dubai International Airport on August 3 shows that many passengers in the Economy Class section defied crew members' orders and grabbed for their overhead baggage.
In the horrifying video, smoke can be seen and the start of flames in the overhead cabin. In theory a Boeing 777-300, the one used for this flight, is meant to be evacuated within 90 seconds. While that timing was almost met, the video shows that precious seconds were lost before the jet erupted into a fireball. The same video shows an evacuation slide above the wing inoperable and flames near the left engine.
Separately, one passenger said that only one of the evacuation slides were usable.
In fairness to the passengers, many of whom were probably migrant workers, the shock and sudden loss of belongings was not easy to handle. Some could have been flying for the first time.
The crew of EK521 were praised for their professionalism and efficiency. Incredibly there were no fatalities among the 18 crew and 282 passengers, though one firefighter was killed and 10 people were reportedly treated for smoke inhalation, according to Gulf News.
This is certainly not the first time passengers tried to grab their cabin baggage during an emergency evacuation. After British Airways BA38 crash landed short of the runway at Heathrow Airport on January 17, 2008, passengers could be seen near the destroyed Boeing 777 with hand luggage.
In the crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport in July, 2013, it took only about 90 seconds to get everyone off the Boeing 777, which was carrying 291 passengers and 16 crew. This was the case even though several of its emergency evacuation slides malfunctioned, and two apparently opened inside the cabin - pinning several passengers.
Aviation experts observed that in the evacuation of Asiana 214, many passengers took their belongings down the slide. Two boxes of duty free alcohol also made it off the plane.
“I was surprised, and maybe a bit appalled, by the photos and footage of people leaving the plane with their carry-ons,” Patrick Smith, an airline pilot who flies internationally and blogs at Askthepilot.com told The New York Times. “This is something we’ve seen in several emergency evacuations in recent years.
“But lugging a carry-on bag down the aisle during an emergency evacuation, when seconds can mean the difference between life and death, is reckless, endangering not just your own life, but the lives of people behind you. Those escape slides are much steeper and higher off the ground than it looks on television. They are designed to get a planeload of people out of, and away from, the aircraft as quickly as possible — without their belongings.”
The cause of the crash of EK521 is still under investigation. At the time of the crash, EK521 was in its final stages of its journey from Thiruvananthapuram, India. The Emirates chairman said the pilots each had over 7,000 hours of flying experience. It was powered by Rolls Royce Trent 800 engines and had its last maintenance check a year ago. Wind shear is one of the factors being investigated.
Dubai International, the busiest in the Middle East, was closed for over two hours but many cancellations and delays were reported in the hours and days afterwards.