Fuel spillage from the surge tank vent of a Boeing 747 at Sharjah, United Arab Emirates on 3 April led to a virtual passenger mutiny which prevented the departure of the aircraft for its London, UK destination.

The captain of the Phuket Air 747-200 abandoned an attempt to take off because some passengers were on their feet protesting that there was a fire.

The 26-year-old aircraft (HS-VAO) arrived at Sharjah from Bangkok on the evening of 2 April to refuel before flying to London Gatwick. During pushback at04:30 local time next day passengers saw fuel spilling from a wingtip and press reports say they feared there was a leak near the engines.

Phuket Air executive vice-pres­i­dent Capt Chawanit Chiam­char­oenvut says the spillage came from the vent of a surge tank, a small-volume tank at each wingtip designed to cope with thermal expansion of fuel in the wing tanks, and that at that stage none of the engines had been started.

He says the aircraft was put back at the stand to have the surge tank drained. A second pushback again resulted in spillage, so the tank was drained a second time before the aircraft taxied out for take-off.

As it turned on to the runway there was further spillage, and when one passenger stood and called for the flight to be abandoned, another said there was a fire. This led to panic, which the cabin crew reported to the captain, who taxied the aircraft back to the stand.

Chiamcharoenvut says the 366 passengers were given hotel accommodation while the aircraft was checked over, and on 3 April most of them flew in the same aircraft to Gatwick with no further incident, arriving the following day. Chiamcharoenvu asserts that news media claims of "flame and sparking" were wrong.

The UK Department for Transport asked the Civil Aviation Authority to inspect the aircraft on arrival at Gatwick. The CAA determined that overfuelling had occurred at Sharjah because of a fuel guage fault that was an acceptable deferred defect. But the aircraft was only allowed to leave Gatwick without passengers because of unacceptable cabin defects, notably in guidance to emergency exits.


Source: Flight International