Plane catches fire at Dubai airport; Emirates confirms ‘incident’
DUBAI // One of the firefighters who responded to the fire onboard a plane at Dubai airport on Wednesday has died.
The General Civil Aviation Authority said the firefighter had “lost his life while saving the lives of others”.
“I salute his ultimate sacrifice that kept many from harm’s way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the authority.
Investigators from the authority are working with Emirates and Dubai International Airport to determine the cause of the accident which left thirteen injured, officials said.
Flight EK521 was carrying 300 people when it caught fire on the runway during landing at about 12.45pm, and later exploded. Reports had suggested that it landed without landing gear.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chairman and chief executive of Emirates, said everyone onboard was safe.
“We can confirm that there are no fatalities among our passengers and crew. All passengers and crew are accounted for and safe,” he said via video statement.
During a press conference about the incident, Sheikh Ahmed said the Emirati pilot was experienced and had more than 7,000 flight hours.
A total of 22 flights departing from Dubai International were cancelled as a result of the incident, in part because the plane was blocking a runway.
The airline said it would waive all re-booking or cancellation fees for flights affected by the incident, according to Dubai Media Office.
Six inbound flights to Dubai were cancelled and four were returned to their departure airport.
Thirteen flights were diverted to Dubai World Central airport, four to Sharjah International Airport, two to Al Ain International Airport, and one each to Fujairah, Bahrain and Muscat international airports.
The Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Centre said it had implemented an contingency plan to manage air traffic. Flights at the airport resumed at about 6.30pm.
Passengers at the airport reported on social media that the flight, which was carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew, landed without landing gear and caught fire. An explosion can be seen aboard the flight in some footage.
Dubai resident Girisankal Gangadhakan said his wife called him to tell him that she and their three children onboard had been involved in an accident but were safe. “I was shocked when I heard about that,” he said.
Emirates Airline said “an operational incident” happened at 12.45pm.
The airline said in a statement: “Emirates can confirm that flight EK521 travelling from Trivandrum International Airport in Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai has been involved in an accident at Dubai International Airport.
“Our main priority at this time is the safety and wellbeing of all involved and full co-operation is being extended to the authorities and emergency services managing the situation.
“We will update the Emirates website and social media channels as more information becomes available.”
However, the emirates.com website was down for a time on Wednesday afternoon, though its mobile site remained operational.
Ismail Abdel Wahed, executive director of Air Accident Investigations at the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, told The National that investigators were on their way to the scene.
“The air accident investigators will examine the scene and collect the necessary information including the black box data as well as conduct interviews with those involved,” he said.
“Once we have been given the all-clear from the emergency services that the aircraft fire has been extinguished we will make arrangements for it to be removed from the scene to allow us to continue our investigations.
“It’s currently blocking the runway so it will have to be removed.”
Flightradar24, a flight-monitoring site, said that the plane was a Boeing 777 and the flight was EK521, from Thiruvananthapuram, India.
The incident was the most serious to date for Emirates, it being the only loss for the airline since it started operating three decades ago.
Boeing’s 777 model is the largest twin-engine airliner in production and the most used wide-body. Emirates is the largest operator of the plane. The aircraft is also one of the safest jets in the world, with only a handful of them having suffered irreparable damage since the model’s introduction, according to Aviation Safety Network.
The aircraft involved entered service in March 2003, according to data from Flightradar24.
Emirates said that dedicated telephone lines are now active for family members to call for information. They are: UAE - 8002111; Trivandrum - 0091 471 3377337; UK - 00442034508853; US - 0018113502081.
* with additional reporting by Bloomberg and AP