Investigators have detailed the extraordinary evacuation of the crashed Emirates Boeing 777-300 at Dubai, disclosing that cabin crew had to cope with problems at all 10 exits.
The General Civil Aviation Authority has also revealed that passengers were already unbuckling seat-belts and leaving their seats as the aircraft was still sliding along the runway.
Investigators have determined that the 777 came down on its engines and fuselage, with its undercarriage retracted, after failing to climb away during a go-around on 3 August.
The aircraft shed its right-hand engine as it came to a halt, resulting in an intense fuel-fed fire.
While the aircraft had five exits on each side, the evacuation slides for those on the left were badly affected by the wind.
The inquiry also notes that cabin crew assigned to the two forward left-hand doors were initially unable to open them – possibly because the aircraft was listing to the right – and required assistance.
Four of the left-hand doors were ultimately opened – the central door was left shut owing to smoke outside – but their slides were either blown up against the aircraft or, in one case, detached before it could be used.
Passengers could only evacuate from the rearmost left-hand exit before the wind made its slide unusable.
Four of the right-hand exits – on the side facing the fire – were opened. The forward slide was initially wind-blown and subsequently deflated after some occupants had escaped, while the second exit was temporarily barred from use due to smoke.
Passengers evacuating down one of the slides on the aft right-hand doors “became stuck”, says the inquiry, because it filled with water during the firefighting effort. Cabin crew redirected passengers to the rearmost right-hand door slide, which had to be held down by firefighters owing to the wind.
While cabin crew had instructed passengers to leave belongings behind, the inquiry states that “several passengers” evacuated the aircraft carrying their baggage.
The aircraft’s captain and senior flight attendant were the last to leave the aircraft. They were forced to jump from the forward left-hand door – the slide for which had detached – because the aircraft had filled with smoke as a fuel tank exploded, and they could not locate the cockpit evacuation ropes.
Flight EK521 had been transporting 282 passengers, of which 269 had been seated in the economy-class cabin and the other 13 in business-class. None was in the first-class section.
Despite the chaotic situation, all the passengers, as well as the 18 crew members, survived the accident, although a firefighter attending the crash was fatally injured during a wing tank explosion about 9min after the jet had come to rest.