Investigator seeks lessons from chaotic near disaster


US National Transportation Safety Board Chairman, Robert Sumwalt, has issued some blunt advice to airline passengers: do as the cabin crew says.

The NTSB chairman was commenting about on an ongoing investigation into an uncontrolled engine failure during take-off on an American Airlines Boeing 767 in October 2016. All 170 passengers and crew successfully evacuated the aircraft, at Chicago O’Hare Airport, but 21 people were injured, one seriously.

Sumwalt said the investigation had discovered serious flaws in how the evacuation was carried out. ‘Normally, the cabin crew would communicate with the flight crew to coordinate,’ he said. ‘But in this accident, there were no communications between the cabin and the cockpit before or during the evacuation. As a result, flight attendants initiated the evacuation with the left engine still running. The one seriously injured passenger was blown over by jet blast from that engine,’ Sumwalt said.

The evacuation was also slowed by passengers retrieving their baggage—despite flight attendant instructions to leave it behind. ‘One passenger even resisted a flight attendant attempting to take away a carry-on bag … in a burning airplane,’ Sumwalt said.

‘Let me also say a word to the flying public: Follow your crew’s instructions. Things can be replaced. People can’t. Pilots and flight attendants need your cooperation, as a passenger, to perform safe and orderly evacuation. They’ll tell you when, where, and how to exit—and to leave your baggage behind.’

‘Fortunately, the lessons we learned from this accident did not come at the cost of human lives.’

The NTSB has recommended that checklists reflect the difference between engine fires in flight, where lives depend on an operational second engine, and engine fires on the ground, where lives might depend on shutting down the engine.


  1. As more details come out about this accident it should prove very interesting and no doubt lessons to be learned.

  2. Works in Reverse Too Cabin Crew Plus Passengers can See the Gravity Of a Situation outside while Pilots go through a Prolonged Engine System & Shutdown Procedure Completely unawear Of Aircraft On Fire Behind Them !! As for Pax grabbing onboard Luggage they are Part of the Problem too ! Pehaps tailfin positioned wide angled Live Cameras such as some A380s have for the Pax Be Made For mandatory for the Pilots View !!

    • It’s an interesting idea for a cabin camera feed to the cockpit…, though I think a live link to panel screen could be overpoweringly distracting in many high stakes emergencies. Perhaps sim training for the cockpit crew might cut that edge, maybe not.

      I think training aircrew to focus on THEIR world, THEIR responsibilities in sims and in check rides is perhaps the best approach… Then fix the exercises used in the SIM and cockpit so those muscle memory building opportunities are more real world, and perhaps more holistic.

      I appreciate the reminder of the chaos for this AA flight emergency (which is similar in execution to another by BA). I speculate the only way to separate passengers from luggage is to prohibit anything except diaper bags in the cabin. Small chance of that. :)

      • Yes Very True I Think Cabin Crew Training to include alerting Copit Crew to the Signs Of Visible Fire,Fluid Leaks or other abnormalities be communicated to them immediately as Cockpit Indications My not show the Gavity or even the Occurance Of Such anomalies!

  3. Just a thought.Maybe if there was a way of locking the overhead lockers on aircraft,to stop pasengers trying to remove their case of a situation (airbourne flight emergency).This could be by having a flight attendant controlled be actvated in the emergency cabin evacuation drill etc…A bit draconiam I realise, but then passengers might really limit the carry on luggage to that on their actual person.

    • Won’t work, more cost to the operators unless it’s mandated. Besides a few of the lockers hold safety equip & if a fire broke out in a locker that took out the opening mechanism then that’s a safety issue, won’t happen!

  4. No matter how much training, procedures and threats from cabin staff these are human beings you dealing with here not trained people or robots! Cabin briefing prior to take off is like locks on yr doors, they are only there for the honest thieves!!
    Humans will always do one of two things when in an emerg situation that’s completely foreign to them fight or flight. The grabbing of bags will always be an issue most won’t want to leave behind personal stuff, I know I’d be hesitant to do so if there was a jam up of people in the aisles as there always would be and I’m a retired Airline pilot!!
    Christ the amount of people who get up out of their seats once we had slowed down to taxi speed was amazing! Smoking, drunken behaviour is still widespread onboard a crammed packed metal tube!
    Panic will always be the number one outcome of an event like this, investigators, rule makers and the industry just have to get used to accepting that planes crash, people die or get seriously hurt even if it never left the ground, it’s the cost of doing business!!

    • With respect – subsequent to each accident investigation there are invariably findings and recommendations!! Were the industry to have simply “accepted” the way survival factors were during the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s & ‘90’s we would not have many of the current safety and emergency procedures that are a ‘given’ in operations today. Dependent on the type of impact – fewer passengers are becoming fatalities these days!
      It is healthy to have discussion and for various ideas to be put forward. In cabin baggage is taking a higher priority in open discussions in media – this has to be a positive and perhaps there will be a solution to two dilemma that are associated – too much and too big, and then for the purposes of this forum – WHY not to take it!
      “Acceptance” of fatalities in an aircraft accident is not a notion that can possibly be a reflection of a responsible industry as a whole.
      The ongoing challenge is providing education for the travelling public and all aviation personnel involved in air operations!!

  5. If the pax overhead bins are able to be centrally locked as part of the emergency procedure it would remove the risk.

  6. I would like to see crew issued with a BIG gun to persuade idiot passengers. A bit draconian but hey I’m a grumpy old B. Shame it can’t happen!

  7. Walter : It was just a thought.I used to operate heavy metal as well.until it was no longer enjoyable
    anymore,due to the above passenger behaviour that you alluded too above and the regulaory paperwork etc… so I just said enough is enough and retired.Now I live a happier lifestyle I reckon..

  8. This is messed up. The engines are supposed to be turned off before evacuation. There is a checklist ffs. Passengers with bags should be banned from all airlines for life. Period.

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