LAS VEGAS: Jet engine parts found on the Las Vegas runway where a British Airways flight aborted takeoff as the engine burst into flames indicate a rare catastrophic failure, experts said as investigators released preliminary findings and began analysing flight data and cockpit recordings.
Early findings show the failure occurred where the engine was under the highest pressure, though there was no immediate indication of what caused it or the fire that forced 170 people to evacuate Tuesday at McCarran International Airport as smoke poured from the aircraft.
"You really don't see catastrophic or uncontained engine failure like this very often," said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant who spent 23 years as a US Airways pilot. He said yesterday that the failure indicates parts sliced through the engine casing.
The National Transportation Safety Board said there was damage to the armored shell around the left engine's high-pressure compressor, and several 7- to 8-inch fragments of the compressor were found on the tarmac.
No one was seriously injured when British Airways Flight 2276 screeched to a halt and the 157 passengers and 13 crew members escaped down evacuation slides as firefighters doused flames spewing from the engine beneath the wing of the Boeing 777.
The pilot who halted the takeoff and calmly called "mayday, mayday" said he will retire one flight shy of the day he had planned to hang up his wings.
Chris Henkey of Padworth, England, told NBC News he'd never had such a close call in a 42-year career, and he's "finished flying." He won't captain what was to be his final flight to Barbados, where he intended to vacation with his daughter.
Investigators planned to interview Henkey and two senior first officers with 18 and 10 years of experience.
Henkey, 63, was hailed by fire officials and airline observers for a flawless reaction and evacuation, though he deflected praise, saying the entire crew helped. The whole ordeal lasted about five minutes.
Engine fires are unusual but not unheard-of.
In July, a Southwest Airlines flight evacuated at Midway International Airport in Chicago when one engine caught fire on takeoff.
In June 2006, an American Airlines jet engine exploded during testing at a maintenance area at Los Angeles International Airport, launching parts into the body of the plane and as far as half a mile away.
No one was injured in either incident. Both jets had different engines than the British Airways plane.
NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigators, along with teams from Boeing and engine manufacturer General Electric, were examining the aircraft before removing the damaged engine for a thorough analysis.