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Fuel leak alert on British Airways flight 'ignored' by air crew

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Media captionThe fan cowl door flaps on both engines broke off mid flight and caused damage to the plane causing it to return to Heathrow Airport on 24 May 2013

Cabin crew failed to act on passengers' concerns about leaking fluid from the engine of a plane which was forced to make an emergency landing, a report has said.

The British Airways (BA) plane returned to Heathrow Airport with black smoke billowing from an engine in May 2013.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report also said aircraft technicians may have been fatigued.

BA said changes had been made to prevent similar incidents occurring.

On 24 May 2013, the captain of the Airbus A319 decided to make an emergency landing, four minutes into the flight to Oslo, Norway.

A maintenance error had led to the fan cowl doors on both engines becoming detached mid-flight after they were left unlatched following scheduled overnight work.

When the doors broke off they caused damage to other parts of the plane and punctured a fuel pipe in the right hand side engine, where a small fire also broke out, the report said.

Seventy-five passengers and five crew were evacuated safely, but three people were treated for minor injuries.

Image copyright David Gallagher
Image caption Passengers and crew were evacuated from the plane via escape slides
Image copyright Dan Bailey
Image caption Dan Bailey took this picture as he was walking to work and noticed the smoke

The AAIB said "several passengers" said they attempted to inform a member of cabin crew about the leaking fluid from the right engine.

"It is unclear when or how the passengers attempted to draw this to the attention of the cabin crew, or indeed which cabin crew members were involved, but it is evidence from photographs and passenger reports that the fuel leak was clearly visible through the cabin windows," the report said.

"Despite these cues, information regarding the fuel leak was not assimilated by the cabin crew and not passed to the flight crew as required."

Two technicians who observed the plane before take-off did not realise the doors were unlatched.

The report said analysis of working time records showed there was an "increased risk that their performance could be compromised by fatigue" due to planned and overtime work they had undertaken before their shift.

Recommendations including tackling fatigue and carrying out in-flight damage assessments were suggested by the report.

The incident closed both of Heathrow's runways while passengers and crew used escape slides, leading to 192 flights being cancelled.

Keith Williams, BA's executive chairman, said: "The safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority.

"The changes we have already made to our procedures, along with the safety recommendations for EASA and Airbus, will prevent occurrences of this type of incident in the future."

BA added, although the hours of technicians were compliant with working time legislation, the company had restructured its overnight engineering teams.

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