Just after mid-day local time Emirates’ flight EK521 caught fire after landing at Dubai International Airport. Details about why the plane landed as it did will be forthcoming over the next several hours and days but at first blush I have a few observations about the incident.
I really hope the ATC audio quality for the pilots was better than what I heard in the recording pulled from LiveATC.net. That said, I continue to be amazed at the calm professionalism displayed by ATC operators in the face of massive stress and challenges. I transcribed relevant bits of the communication on Twitter earlier and am included some of that below. Perhaps most significant to me was the “please” used by the controller at one point in indicating that the fire trucks could proceed to the aircraft.
- On TWR2 @liveatc #EK521 cleared to land ~6:00. At ~7:25 something about “4000.” “Go around” called for next aircraft ~7:45.
- At 7:50 TWR2 gets a new voice saying “you need to check out the end of 12-L” presumably after #EK521 fire is visible.
- TWR1 then calls airport closed until further notice ~8:46. FIRE1 is cleared to respond at ~9:52. #EK521
- Multiple “FIRE1, Proceed to the aircraft” calls made by TWR1 from 9:45-10:30. At 10:40 “All fire vehicles proceed to the aircraft.
- Perhaps my favorite TWR1 at 11:07, “FIRE5, you may cross 1-2-Right. Proceed to the aircraft. please.”
Also in the audio is an almost unintelligible “4000” mentioned by ATC about 80 seconds after the plane had been cleared to land. That call is consistent (as best I can tell from the horrible audio quality) with the “go around” called for the following plane, suggesting that EK521 was intending to abort the landing at that point. Obviously that aborted landing didn’t work out so well. Other sources appear to be confirming that the plane was trying to gain altitude so, again, consistent with the idea of a failed “go around” for the flight. I imagine that will be a significant focus of the investigation.
Everyone walked away
This is, to me, the most significant thing about the incident. Everyone evacuated the aircraft safely. All 282 passengers on board and 18 crew were off before the flames caused the damage we now see in photos. That’s a combination of the incredible engineering which goes into building the planes and the training and professionalism of the crews in getting passengers out, among other things.
This also is believed to be the first real world evac of a 777 in 3-4-3 layout. The flight was only loaded to ~75% so not completely full but the tighter personal space on board did not – at least in the obvious, macro view – cause issues for emergency egress. And that was with a mix of real world people doing the evac very much under threatening conditions. Not a perfect test, but a pretty good vote of confidence. Which sucks if you want to see more personal space given to economy travelers but such is life.
Also, some asshats took their carry-on bags with them during the evacuation. Not surprising, unfortunately, but it happened. We are fortunate to not have any injuries or fatalities to report as a result of the slowed evac, but seeing that always bothers me. Passport and phone in your pocket, shoes on for take-off and landing. Everything else stays behind.
It helps that the event happened mid-day local time on a work day, to be sure, but the company was spectacularly quick to respond with official statements and useful updates. Yes, there were revisions along the way (passenger count increased by ~25 from the first to second statement) but the overall tone and control of the message was strong. That they had the CEO on camera, speaking with confidence and real information in multiple languages less than four hours after the accident is important.
Dealing with this sort of incident is not easy. But Emirates is almost making it look so. It is impressive.