The extraordinary evacuation of the Boeing 737 that exploded

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Remember the China Airlines Boeing 737 that exploded on the ground at Naha, Japan in August 2007? Well, the final accident report is out and you can read just how astonishing it is that everybody got out alive.

There was a huge piece of luck in that the wing with the initial fire was on the downwind side of the fuselage. Correction, it’s even more remarkable because the wing with the initial fire was on the upwind side of the fuselage. The final occupants, including the pilots, got out with literally seconds to spare.

Some of you will recall how in the similar 737-200 accident at Manchester, UK  way back in August 1985, 55 occupants died in a truly terrible accident partly because the fire was upwind of the fuselage. As my colleague David Learmount later wrote, the wave of research and rulemaking that it sparked made it one of the accidents that changed the world.


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3 Responses to The extraordinary evacuation of the Boeing 737 that exploded

  1. 121 Pilot September 2, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood but looking at both video of the fire and the accident report it would seem that we are more fortunate than Mr. Daily indicates. The initial fire was not on the downwind side of the fuselage but rather the upwind side which meant the wind blew the flames and fuel back into the fuselage instead of away from it. The fire broke out near the #2 or right hand engine and that was the side of the aircraft the wind was blowing from.

  2. 121 Pilot September 2, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    Ok I’ve reviewed the report from the Manchester Accident and I think I understand what Mr. Daily was referencing. In the Manchester Event the wind blew the fire back towards the rear doors one of which having been opened admitted smoke and fire into the cabin. In the Air China event the wind was on th beam which left all 4 doors clear and useable for the evacuation.

    I haven’t read the entire Manchester report yet but I’m guessing that part of what made that even so bad was that the puncture was into a tank which had been filled for takeoff (so lots more fuel available) and that the hole and resulting leak rate was higher. Plus we have the result of the fire starting during a highspeed abort which certainly did not help the situation the resulting airspeed probably causing the fire to intensify and spread far more rapidly than in the Air China case.

  3. Kieran Daly April 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    121 Pilot is absolutely right and I was wrong when I said the aircraft in the Japanese fire had the fire on the downwind wing. It was the upwind wing – which I’ve now corrected in the post. Furthermore there was a slope to the ramp which tended to move the fuel towards the fuselage.

    The point (one of many) at Manchester was that the aircraft was stopped for the evacuation with the wind blowing the fire towards the fuselage. Since then British pilots at least, and no doubt many others, have been sensitised as to that risk and hopefully they would take it into account in a similar situation.

    In Japan of course the aircraft was stationary already.

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