Blistered paint on the fuselage above the cockpit testified to the considerable heat generated by an electrical fire in an AirTran McDonnell Douglas DC-9, according to a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary bulletin. The aircraft landed safely after the crew turned back to Greensboro airport, North Carolina, having smelled burning and donned smoke masks just after take-off on 8 August.

When the aircraft turned back, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and sparks "in the area of the forward flight attendant's jumpseat". The NTSB adds: "The crew reported that the smoke became very dense and restricted their ability to see instruments, visual references outside and even each other."

The investigators have determined that there was "extensive wire and insulation heat damage and smoke damage and...the heat was sufficient to blister the primer on the fuselage crown skin...the fire [appears to have] originated in the [cockpit] electrical panel." There was evidence of arcing in the relay for the left heat exchanger.

This may put AirTran, formerly ValuJet, back under the Federal Aviation Administration microscope. ValuJet was grounded after the May 1996 DC-9 crash, in which 110 people died when the cargo hold caught fire.

Source: Flight International