ENGINE FAILURE: Smoke billows out of the BA aircraft in Las Vegas [PIC CREDIT: Eric Hays via AP]
A BRITISH Airways plane bound for London with 170 people on board burst into flames on the tarmac at Las Vegas Airport because of 'catastrophic' engine failure, its pilot has said.
The Boeing 777-200 was preparing to take off shortly after 4pm (local time) yesterday (Sept 8) when its left engine caught fire.
The 157 passengers and 13 crew were evacuated using emergency slides as around 50 firefighters tackled the blaze, while 13 people were treated in hospital for minor injuries and have now been released from hospital.
In a statement, British Airways said the aircraft "experienced a technical issue as it was preparing for take-off".
In audio recordings, the jet's pilot, who has been praised for his handling of the emergency, is heard calmly asking for fire crews before telling air traffic control: "We are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire, I repeat, we are evacuating."
He later told passengers that the accident was the result of a "catastrophic failure of the engine", reports the Guardian's Jacob Steinberg, who was on board the plane.
"We looked out the window and for the first time saw smoke near the wing. We could smell it. It was like burning rubber - bitter and deeply unpleasant - and it was time to panic," Steinberg writes.
Firefighters stationed at the airport reached the plane two minutes after getting reports of flames, and within five minutes everyone inside the plane had escaped.
The injured were taken to Sunrise Hospital, with most receiving treatment after hurting themselves while sliding down inflatable chutes to escape the aircraft.
An airport spokeswoman said: "We cannot express enough gratitude to the emergency response crews, as well as the British Airways crew.”
Boeing, General Electric (which manufactured the plane's engines) and British Airways all released statements saying they would provide assistance and cooperation in the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.