BA fire: Passengers describe terror on Las Vegas flight

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Media captionBA jet passengers: "As soon as the crew heard passengers saying there was a fire there was no hesitation"

Passengers have been describing the terrifying moment a fire broke out on board their London-bound British Airways plane at Las Vegas airport.

People started screaming and rushing to the front of the plane after its take-off on Tuesday was abruptly halted due to the fire, some eyewitnesses said.

All 170 people were quickly led to safety, some with minor injuries.

Aviation officials have started an investigation into why the left engine of the Boeing 777-200 caught fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says it has sent a team of investigators to the scene.

General Electric said the plane was powered by two of its GE90 engines and it would also send two of its technical experts to join the investigation.

The company said it was not aware of "any operational issues that would hazard the continued safe flight of aircraft powered by these engines," stressing that it had an "outstanding safety and reliability record since entering service in 1995".

'A lot of panic'

Passengers said they heard a loud bang "like a tyre blowing out", causing the plane to come to a "screeching halt" at 16:13 local time (23:13 GMT) on Tuesday.

"I saw smoke from the window," David Willey, who was on board, told the BBC.

He said he was told "to prepare to vacate the plane by gathering by the middle exit but then we saw smoke coming through into the plane from that exit," he added.

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Media captionAmateur footage of dramatic scenes as the blaze took hold

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses who were waiting at a nearby gate inside McCarran International Airport described the moment of horror when the plane became engulfed in smoke and flames.

"Everyone ran to the windows and people were standing on their chairs, looking out, holding their breath with their hands over their mouths,'' Reggie Bugmuncher told the Associated Press.

Image copyright Lynn Alexander

At the scene - James Cook, BBC News, Las Vegas

It has been an emotional night for the passengers of Flight 2276.

British Airways has put them up in a huge hotel and casino complex in Las Vegas, illuminated by neon and patrolled by security guards.

Some travellers say they were unable to sleep as they contemplated what happened when their aeroplane tried to take off.

From the adrenalin-pumping moments when the evacuation was ordered, emotions have been powerful, from jubilation at their escape from a burning jet to horror at what might have been if the blaze had taken hold a few seconds later when the plane was airborne.

Many passengers have praised the actions of the British Airways pilot who was given a round of applause after he addressed them following the fire.

They also thanked the crew of the Boeing 777 and the emergency services at McCarran International Airport for quick, calm actions that ensured this accident did not turn into a disaster.

Firefighters managed to evacuate everyone on board and extinguish the fire within minutes after the emergency call was first raised, the airport said in a statement.

In an audio recording of the pilot's distress call with air traffic control, a male voice can be heard calmly saying: "Speedbird Mayday Mayday. Speedbird 2276 request fire services."

"Speedbird 2276 heavy, we are evacuating on the runway. We have a fire, repeat, we are evacuating," he adds.

The pilot later told passengers that the accident was the result of a "catastrophic failure of the engine", according to the Guardian's Jacob Steinberg.

British Airline Pilots' Association chief Jim McAuslan has praised the pilots and crew for the "professional way the pilots and crew dealt with this emergency situation".

The captain has been named as Chris Henkey, who was reportedly due to retire next week after more than 40 years of flying experience with British Airways.

Image copyright Jacob Steinberg/The Guardian

Some of the passengers were later criticised for violating safety rules after they were seen collecting their luggage before exiting the plane.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stipulates on its website that in case of an emergency evacuation, passengers should leave carry-on items on the plane as retrieving them could "impede the safe evacuation of passengers".

A number of people who were treated for minor injuries caused whilst sliding down the inflatable chutes have already been released from hospital, British Airways says.

Flight 2276 was bound for London's Gatwick airport.

There were 157 passengers and 13 crew members on board.

The incident shut one of the four runways at McCarran International for several hours.

McCarran is a major airport in the US, handling more than 40 million passengers last year.

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