LAS VEGAS— Federal investigators on Thursday were analyzing flight data and cockpit voice recorders from a plane that caught fire on a Las Vegas runway, while the pilot credited with aborting its takeoff said he plans to retire.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said the black boxes from British Airways Flight 2276 have arrived in Washington, D.C., and an NTSB team in Las Vegas could provide preliminary findings as early as Thursday.
The London-bound plane was accelerating down the runway Tuesday when its left engine burst into flames. The takeoff was aborted, the plane’s slides were deployed, and the 170 passengers and crew escaped the Boeing 777 without serious injury.
Investigators in Las Vegas were expected to talk with pilots and start examining the plane’s fuel lines, maintenance records, engine history and other factors.
Meanwhile, the plane’s captain told NBC News he had just one other flight planned before his retirement, but he thinks he’ll skip it and stop flying.
Chris Henkey of Padsworth, England, said the only flight left on his schedule was a trip to Barbados, where he was to stay and vacation with his daughter. Henkey, 63, now says it’s unlikely he’ll make that flight because he’s “finished flying.”
Henkey said he’d never experienced such a dramatic emergency in his 42-year career. He deflected praise, saying the entire crew helped ensure people’s safety.
Passengers on Flight 2276 reported hearing two loud booms before flames and the smell of burning rubber sent them dashing to the inflatable evacuation slides, unsure if they were fleeing a bomb or a blown tire.
“Everyone was screaming, ‘Just keep on running,'” said Karen Bravo, a 60-year-old who abandoned the flip-flops she had taken off minutes before to settle in for the 10-hour flight.
When the running stopped and they turned around, there was nothing but black smoke and flames. “It was like a scene out of ‘Die Hard’,” Bravo said.
As bad as it looked, it could have been much worse. The plane was filled with fuel for its lengthy journey but didn’t explode. The flicking flames also didn’t breach the cabin, which can hold up to 275 souls but, on this day, held half as many.
The 157 passengers and 13 crew members escaped as fire crews sprayed foam to push the flames away from those fleeing. Injuries were mostly bumps, bruises and scrapes from the plane’s slides.
The dramatic scene played out in five short minutes.
Fire officials and airline observers described the response as flawless, a result of daily training that can make a blown engine on a Boeing 777 feel routine.
The plane had two GE90 engines made by GE Aviation. It was built in 1998 and registered to British Airways a year later. By the end of 2013, the aircraft had been flown for 76,618 hours, according to the British Civil Aviation Authority.
That’s about average for that model of aircraft, said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and a former captain with U.S. Airways for 23 years. “It has a remarkably good safety record,” he said of the 777 model first introduced in 1994.
“This is a highly unusual event, to have an engine failure of this magnitude,” he said.