The fire extinguishers on the British Airways plane which burst into flames on a Las Vegas runway failed to work, a source close to the investigation has claimed.
It is thought the fire suppression system failed when the left engine of the Boeing 777 began to burn as the plane, bound for Gatwick, accelerated down the runway.
Close-up images of the damage have revealed the extent of the damage, showing for the first time how one side of the engine exploded, before throwing hot metal and burning fuel into the side of the aircraft, sparking a huge blaze.
The metal covering one side of the Boeing 777’s engine appears to have been blown outwards, while the underside of the wing and nearby fuselage are badly burned, suggesting the fire was coming from that opening.
The new pictures also show how close the flames came to burning their way through the exterior of the plane and into the cabin, threatening the lives of all 170 passengers and crew who were on board at the time.
A source close to the investigation claimed the plane’s fire indication light did come on ‘at some point’, and the aircraft had the right extinguishers, but for some reason appear not to have work on the blaze, according to CNN.
Investigators are still looking into exactly what happened on Tuesday, as British Airways Flight 2276 was preparing for takeoff at McCarran International Airport around midday yesterday when there was a ‘huge explosion’.
While BA has issued a statement simply saying the accident was caused by a ‘technical issue’, aircraft experts have told ABC News that it appears as if the engine exploded during takeoff.
Col. Steve Ganyard, an aviation consultant for the news channel, said: ‘The engine really just exploded. After they put the fire out, you could see how clearly that fire came to almost penetrating into the cabin.’
Pilot Chris Henkey, 63, who has flown with the airline for more than 40 years, was hailed as a ‘hero’ today after he managed to stop the aircraft within just nine second of the blaze breaking out, before radioing for help.
Despite his aircraft being engulfed in black smoke, Mr Henkey can be heard calmly calling the radio tower, saying: ‘Mayday, Mayday, Speedbird 2276 request fire services. We are evacuating on the runway, we have a fire, I repeat, we are evacuating.’
Passengers described fleeing the cabin as it began to heat up from the blaze outside, while 14 people were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation or injuries sustained while trying to exit the plane down the emergency slides.
Today, relative of Mr Henkey told of how he has never experienced a major problem with an aircraft before, but had a brush with death once during a car crash in his vintage MG Midget in the 1980s.
Mr Henkey’s long-term partner Lenka Nevolna has also spoken of her pride in his actions today, revealing that the pair actually got engaged in April. It also emerged that the accident occurred just a week before Mr Henkey is due to retire.
Passengers today revealed how, despite the danger, some people delayed evacuating the plane by stopping to grab their bags, blocking the aisles.
Images taken from the runway by passengers fleeing from the flames and smoke clearly showed some people carrying their cases and jackets, having presumably removed them from the overhead luggage storage.
A team from the National Transportation Safety Board in currently en-route to Vegas from Washington DC in order to carry out an investigation into what caused the engine to disintegrate.
A preliminary report is expected within a week or so, though the full report could take as much as a year to compile, given that this is an unusual case.
The Boeing 777 is the second safest aircraft in the skies today, according to data from FearofFlying.com, having just one accident per 18million hours of flying time completed.
There have been just a handful of accidents in the plane’s 19-year flying history, and only one with fatalities. On that occasion the plane landed short of the runway in San Francisco, killing three people on board.
The only aircraft that is safer than the 777 is the Airbus A340, which has never suffered an accident, despite
General Electric, which manufactures the plane’s two giant GE90 engines has also pointed out that the machine has an ‘outstanding’ safety record since being introduced in 1955.
A spokesman said: ‘Based on the engine fleet’s service history, we are not aware of any operational issues that would hazard the continued safe flight of aircraft powered by these engines.’