Within minutes of skidding across the runway, all 282 passenger on board an Emirates flight, which exploded in flames in Dubai on Wednesday, were safely evacuated.
In a life-or-death moment, what goes through the mind of an air steward?
Training is key, a former Emirates crew member who asked not to be identified, told CNN.
At the Emirates Aviation University on the outskirts of Dubai, aspiring crew must pass a seven-week course, complete with full motion simulators for all types of aircraft in the Emirates fleet.
“That covered everything imaginable. We had written tests as well as practical exams in the simulators, which gave us every possible scenario: Severe turbulence, ditchings [emergency landing on water], cargo fires, engine fires etc,” said the former crew member.
Once training is complete, the airline requires staff to return to the training college for annual refresher courses, without which staff are grounded. Additionally, the crew hold safety and security briefings before every flight and are regularly alerted to any updates or changes to aircraft or procedures, says the former crew member.
Speaking to the crash after landing in Dubai, the ex-airline steward said in preparation for release of emergency slides, the crew would have been aware of outside conditions and are trained to blockade the aircraft doors as they inflate. Once ready, the command “jump and slide” would be given repeatedly as the passengers escaped the plane. And staff would have been trained to do it all in under 90 seconds.
“It’s extremely impressive… For an evacuation to operate so efficiently, every member of that team would’ve been ready,” they added. “The crew obviously didn’t struggle with their tasks or responsibilities.”
‘Jump!’ Video shows burning jet chaos
Dramatic footage from inside the Emirates flight shows passengers escaping the burning plane on slides and then on foot.
In the footage, shared on social media, passengers begin grabbing bags and hand luggage from overheard lockers before being told to leave them and “jump on the slide.”
A nervous female voice can be heard screaming at passengers to leave their bags behind and “jump, jump, jump!”
As passengers wait on the slide, the camera lingers on one of the Emirates flights’ engines, which is clearly on fire.
All 282 passengers and 18 crew members on board the Boeing 777 were successfully evacuated, with only 13 suffering minor injuries, before the plane exploded on the runway.
One firefighter, identified as Jassim Essa Al-Baloushi, was killed battling the fire — the Dubai government’s media office said he died “saving the lives of others.”
Images taken of the gutted plane after the explosion show the entire top half of the aircraft’s fuselage is missing, with the plane slumped on the tarmac.
There is still no official word on what caused the fire.
‘I saw an engine separate from the wing’
Flight EK521 was on its final leg after traveling from Trivandrum International Airport in Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai, when suddenly the lights went off.
In an interview with The Indian Express, passenger Abraham Thomas, who was on his way to a wedding, said many passengers felt like they were choking as smoke filled the plane.
“After touching the ground, it seemed like the pilot tried to lift off again. I was at a window seat on the right side. When the aircraft landed, I saw an engine separate from the plane,” he said.
“The plane kept moving on the runway for about five minutes before coming to a halt. Suddenly, emergency doors opened and the crew asked everyone to escape.”
The majority of people on board the plane were Indian nationals.
Investigation into fire still ongoing
No official reason for the incident has been announced as of Thursday, but CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said images of the plane suggest the front landing gear of the aircraft could have collapsed.
“Either the landing gear collapsed… or one of the wings touched the ground or the engine touched the ground, but certainly in the process of the skid, that right engine becomes disengaged from the aircraft [and] a fire ensues,” he said.
In a press conference, Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum said he didn’t want to “jump to conclusions” on what had caused the fire and subsequent explosion.
Quest said aircraft were designed to be able to be evacuated within 90 seconds if there is an accident. “This clearly appears to be what has happened,” he said.
Flights were beginning to return to normal at Dubai Airport on Thursday morning, after a delay following the fire.
Emirates, which began operations in 1985, has never had a fatal accident with any of its aircraft.