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Air hostess ‘needlessly’ evacuated jet on Stansted runway injuring 10 passengers

A panic-stricken air hostess ‘needlessly’ ordered the evacuation of an airliner on the runway at Stansted, in which ten people were injured by sliding down escape chutes and being blown over by the plane’s exhaust, a report has revealed. 

The incident happened after an engine of the A320-214 jet suddenly failed while it was building up speed to take off from the Essex airport last year.

The plane, operated by Austrian airline Laudamotion, was brought to a halt on the left of the runway and the pilot ordered the five cabin crew to take up emergency positions at the exits.

The pilot had intended to taxi back his plane off the runway, using his other working engine after checks revealed there was no fire or immediate danger.

But the confused senior flight attendant instead ordered an evacuation which led to her, the four other cabin crew and passengers opening the six exit doors.

Emergency escape chutes were automatically inflated and the 169 passengers on the flight to Vienna were told to slide down on to the runway.

The report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said ten passengers had to be treated for minor injuries at the scene by paramedics after the ‘needless’ evacuation.

Most of the injuries were cuts, bruises and sprains, but two passengers were taken to hospital although they were later discharged.

Some passengers later complained to the airline that they were being treated for post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the drama on March 1 last year.

The report said passengers had been exposed to a risk of ‘serious injury’ as they had been evacuated while the plane’s working right engine was still operating.

It meant that they could have been sucked towards the engine if they had strayed in front of it or been hit by the air blasting out at 65mph behind it.

Several passengers who exited beside the right wing revealed that they were blown over by the engine blast or had possessions blasted away.

The steward manning the rear exit on the right side saw his chute flapping horizontally in the stream of air, and stopped passengers from using it.

The evacuation was hampered by many of the passengers trying to take their cabin luggage with them in contravention of evacuation procedures.

Attendants on the manned exits ordered passengers to dump their bags, but many of those exiting on the unmanned doors over the wings risked tearing the chutes by taking bags with them.

Several passengers were filmed on CCTV carrying luggage on the runway after the evacuation which happened in darkness at around 8.20pm.

The senior flight attendant said she had been left scared by the loud bang when the left engine of the plane failed just one second after the jet began its take-off roll down the runway.

She did not hear the pilot announce on the intercom: ‘Attention: Crew on Station’ which meant attendants should stand by their assigned exits and await further instructions.

The stewardess said she was aware ‘of all the passengers looking at her’ and she felt ‘under pressure’ and was ‘shocked and overwhelmed’.

She had difficulty communicating with an attendant at the rear of the aircraft after his swivel seat trapped the cable of his handset meaning he could not use it properly.

The stewardess thought the attendant had said he had seen flames and sparks coming out of the engine, so she made the announcement: ‘Evacuate, Evacuate, Evacuate’ over the interphone and the plane’s public address system.

The incident happened just two months after the airline was taken over by Ryanair.

The report said that the senior flight attendant may not have been ‘well prepared for her role in the emergency’ due to deficiencies in her training and the earlier bankruptcy of the airline meaning that she had not worked for a period.

The plane’s left engine had what was described as ‘a contained failure’ with several of its rotor blades cracking and flying off as a result of ‘high cycle fatigue’ and a faulty lever arm assembly.

Pieces of the blades were later recovered from the runway at Stansted.

The report said that the 44-year-old pilot had immediately shut down the left engine. and after checking that there was no fire had approached air traffic control to ask to use his right thrust to get the plane off the runway.

He was about to instruct flight attendants on the PA to stand down when he noticed that the evacuation had taken place as he could see passengers wandering around the front of the aircraft.

The report concluded: ‘As a result of the engine failure and subsequent rejected takeoff, the Senior Flight Attendant commanded an emergency evacuation that was not necessary in the circumstances.

‘This was probably the result of a combination of factors that heightened her emotional response to the event and affected her decision making..

‘The factors included inexperience as a flight attendant, weaknesses in her training and communication difficulties during the event.

‘As a result of the flight crew not being consulted before the evacuation was commenced, the right engine remained running for the first few minutes of the evacuation.

‘This led to an increased risk of serious injury to those passengers that evacuated on the right side of the aircraft. Indeed, several passengers sustained minor injuries having been blown over by the exhaust.

‘During the evacuation several passengers hindered the evacuation by taking their cabin baggage with them. While some were removed by the flight attendants at the supervised exits, this was not possible at the overwing exits.’

The report said that the airline had improved its training for cabin crew as a result of the incident.

It had also amended its flight safety manual ‘to instruct the Flight Attendants to attempt to establish communications with the flight crew to check that an evacuation is safe and necessary before commanding it independently.’

The needless evacuation led to the runway being shut for two and a half hours and saw 13 incoming flights being diverted.

The report also recommended the European Union Aviation Safety Agency commission carry out new research to determine how to prevent passengers retrieving their carry-on baggage before an aircraft evacuation.

It said: ‘The carried baggage probably slowed the evacuation and had the potential to damage the escape slides or injure other passengers on the slides.’

One passenger estimated that around half of the passengers plane had tried retrieve their luggage from overhead lockers and from under seats before leaving.

The report added that ‘numerous passengers’ had commented about access to the aisle and exits being ‘impeded’ by people taking their baggage. As a result, some passengers were shouted at to leave their baggage behind.

It concluded: ‘This incident has shown once again that, during an emergency evacuation, a proportion of passengers will attempt to leave the aircraft with their carry-on baggage slowing the evacuation process.’

Laudamotion and Ryanair have been approached for comment.

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